More Rules and Regulations for Content Marketers

So, content marketers, let’s talk about the regulatory environment more broadly, because one thing is for certain: the web, as wild and woolly as online discourse may be, is no longer the Wild West. Online marketing is now being held to a much higher standard.

Privacy protection, accessibility, and copyright —  oh, my!

Last time around, we talked about data privacy regulations as they apply to non-transactional sites. As confusing a landscape as those regulations currently present, they’re not the only regulations with which you need to be aware and compliant.

So, let’s talk about the regulatory environment more broadly, because one thing is for certain: the web, as wild and woolly as online discourse may be, is no longer the Wild West. Online marketing is now being held to a much higher standard than it has been, so you’ll want to be sure you have a plan in place to build your site by the book and to remain compliant. Otherwise, you risk spending more time talking to lawyers than to prospects.

Accessibility

If you built your website without accessibility in mind, chances are you’re not going to be happy when your website developers tell you what it’s going to cost to make it compliant. In many cases, it can make more sense to start from scratch, given the investment involved.

On the plus side, the cost to design and build a new website with compliance in mind is only incrementally greater than building that same site without WCAG Level AA compliance as your goal.

There is some extra work to be done, but for the most part, compliance requires a change in mindset for designers and some slightly different coding tactics for the dev team. Once that’s in place, it’s really only a matter of making sure new content additions are made in a compliant manner. (Image alt tags must be included, for example.)

You’ll want to include an accessibility statement on your site that includes a way for visitors who are having trouble consuming your content to contact you and seek remediation.

Privacy and Data Protection

As we’ve discussed, you need a privacy policy and you need to abide by it. If you haven’t told people that you’re planning on selling their email addresses to the highest bidder, you probably can’t. (Regulations differ by jurisdiction and industry; check with a lawyer.)

Once you have a collection of data, you need to take steps to keep that data safe, both in storage and in any transmittal or other use. Again, your industry may have specific compliance standards that you have to meet, and you may need to document the protections you’ve put in place.

Copyright

If you don’t own it, don’t publish it. This should be obvious, but often marketers make mistakes that can be costly.

Images are the most common area where errors occur. Doing a web search and then publishing any old image you find is a recipe for disaster. Going through a respected stock image library and paying for the images you use is the safest approach.

If you’d prefer not to go that route, you can use the Google Advanced Image Search tool. It is an excellent way to search for images to use in your digital marketing if you filter to include only those that are “free to use, share, or modify, even commercially.”

Don’t even think about trying to use an image from a stock image library without licensing it. They can and will find you. They can and will demand payment, usually well beyond what the initial license would have cost. (Also worth noting is that technically, for most stock image libraries, any image you use should be licensed under your firm’s name rather than by your design agency. That approach is also just smart business, because you may not always be working with that design team.)

When copy is purloined, it’s even easier to track down. Even if you get away with it, the search engines may very well penalize you for publishing duplicate content. There are other ways to get on the search engines’ bad sides, so be careful if you’re republishing content from other sources, even if it’s content that you have the right to republish.

Finally, think twice before stealing code. It’s an open source world, but that doesn’t mean you’re free to take and use anything you find in your travels. At the very least, attribution may be required. Most code libraries, snippets, etc., may require license fees — regardless of how they’re used. Some require payment only if you want updates or support. This can be harder for marketers to police, so be sure to have a regularly scheduled review with your dev team.

Spend Time on This

These regulations — and whatever may be coming down the pike in the future — make investing in digital expertise ever more important. Your team needs the time and mandate to stay on top of what regulations apply to your business and best practices for remaining compliant.

The 10 Most Fascinating People in B2B Marketing in 2019

I’m back with my roundup of brilliant B2B marketers whom I’ve encountered this year. With a tip of the hat to those on my previous lists, it is my pleasure to introduce these fascinating colleagues to you. Our B2B marketing field has thrived in recent decades.

I’m back with my roundup of brilliant B2B marketers whom I’ve encountered this year. With a tip of the hat to those on my lists last year, and in 2017, 2016, and 2015, it is my pleasure to introduce these fascinating colleagues to you. Our B2B marketing field has thrived in recent decades, as new technologies and strategies emerged to help us reach target audiences and generate sales conversations.

But now, as we enter a new decade where challenges loom — data privacy, ad fraud, fake posts, ever-longer sales cycles — we need all of the talent we can get.

  1. Nancy Harhut is the Energizer Bunny of B2B copywriting. After a long career at Boston-area agencies, she has formed her own firm, and is creating bang-up campaigns for clients based on new insights from behavioral science. Catch her informative keynotes at B2B marketing conferences here and abroad.
  2. Valerie Bowling co-founded The Conference Forum to serve the pharmaceutical clinical-trials industry. With programs on such cutting-edge fields as immuno-oncology and “patients as partners,” she’s responsible not only for recruiting top-notch industry speakers, but also for driving attendance. As such, Bowling is an avid follower of B2B marketing methods, to fill the seats and keep attendees coming year after year.
  3. Sean Campbell is CEO of Cascade Insights, a Portland, Ore.-based tech market research firm. On the content side, Campbell hosts the “B2B Revealed” podcast, where I was a recent guest. It was the best interview I’ve ever had. He was prepared — actually read my book! He asked thoughtful, important questions, but also managed to steer the interview into a real conversation. Thanks, Sean, for a great experience.
  4. Elle Woulfe, VP of growth marketing at the product design platform InVision, is one of the most coherent thought leaders in the B2B realm. Find wisdom in her article about new ways to think about lead qualification and her three keys to sales and marketing alignment.
  5. I’ve known Chris Jeffers for years, but 2019 saw his major move. Jeffers founded NetFactor, the first service to automate B2B visitor IP address identification, in 2003. In 2017, he sold the company to Bombora, and decided to “retire.” All eyes are on his next step. I know he’ll come up with a winner.
  6. Vinay Mehendi is one of those rare data scientists who easily bridges to the business world. His company, amusingly named OceanFrogs, offers a wide range of B2B data services, like data enrichment and hygiene, persona development, technographic data, and lookalike modeling. But he has also developed some interesting B2B data innovations, like target account prioritization models, partner prospecting services, and a way to identify the “champion” in your target account buying group.
  7. I have to laugh when I run across a B2B sales executive with a stand-up comedy side gig. Check out Vincent Pietrafesa, Stirista’s intrepid VP of B2B products by day, who moonlights as Vincent James at comedy spots in the NY area. Who said B2B couldn’t be funny?
  8. I am a big fan of Jill Konrath, a sales expert who really gets B2B marketing. Having reconnected with her this year to get help crafting cold prospecting emails, I benefited from her superb Prospecting Tool Kit. She knows what she’s talking about, explains things clearly and tells the truth: “What percent of your prospects want to spend time with a salesperson? Zero.”
  9. When I worked at IBM in the 1990s, I noticed that our Canadian colleagues were way ahead in B2B marketing strategy and execution. So I am not surprised to see the same today in marketing services and technology. One example is Mike Couch, Toronto-based martech systems integrator whose agency helps firms like Bloomberg and ADP make their new purchases hum. When asked who should own the martech stack: marketing, sales or IT, Mike says the answer is “your customer.” Indeed.
  10. Bernice Grossman is one of the early lights in B2B data management, who saw long before most the essential value of complete, clean, and well-organized customer information to the success of B2B marketers everywhere. I was honored to partner with her on a series of research reports on B2B data-driven marketing over the years. After 37 years running DMRS Group, she holds the fascinating record.

Here’s to another great year in B2B marketing. Happy new decade to all!

 

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

Branded Content: Possibilities, Pitfalls, and Predictions

Branded content business models are evolving and it’s important for publishers to stay on top of brand expectations in order to stay competitive. Moreover, with audience control shifting from content creators to walled gardens, paid distribution of the branded content needs to be baked into the plan from Day One.

A seismic shift happened in the 2010s: Platforms took control of audiences away from publishers and brands. The result is the need to pay-to-play, which comes with a host of challenges. Brands need to find ways to efficiently expand their reach, while publishers need to create sustainable revenue streams that don’t fully rely on volatile organic traffic sources.

Enter branded content. Not a new concept by any stretch of the imagination, but one that is increasingly becoming a key pillar of revenue for a lot of publishers.

On the surface, branded content is a win-win for all sides. Publishers use their core skillset (storytelling and content distribution) to give brands reach that they can’t achieve on their own. In return, brands pay publishers for their expertise and access to their audiences.

With that being said, branded content business models are evolving and it’s important for publishers to stay on top of brand expectations in order to stay competitive. Moreover, with audience control shifting from content creators to walled gardens, paid distribution of the branded content needs to be baked into the plan from Day One.

Impressions Alone? 

Publishers use a variety of models to package their branded content offerings. Those can be anything from selling based on pageviews on their site to video views on Facebook. The focus does, however, tend to revolve around soft engagement metrics (views and impressions) across the publisher’s channels. There are publishers who work on lead generation and other concrete goals, but those still tend to stay within the publisher’s ecosystem, rather than working with the brand’s own site.

This is advantageous for both sides: For publishers, it helps maintain their tone of voice and trust among their audience — they don’t need to incorporate a “hard sell” into the content, which can be a turn-off for readers. For brands, there aren’t necessarily any concrete goals, and general “brand awareness” metrics can often be enough. When brands want to measure activity and business goals on their own site, they are generally hesitant to share those metrics with external partners, including publishers.

That’s not to say that sales-heavy content pieces don’t exist. Affiliate content, for example, has been on the rise over the past few years. Publishers showcase a range of products in an article and link to an online retailer, which in turn pays the publisher commission for any sales that result from the referral traffic. Most commonly, these affiliate links lead to Amazon, where publishers get a small cut of the sale. Branded content models are evolving to include this approach as well. For example, Walmart partnered with Popular Mechanics to sponsor an article that featured 15 bike camping gifts for outdoorsmen alongside links to their respective product pages on walmart.com.

Synergy Is Key to Success

When it comes to branded content, synergy is much more than a buzzword. An alignment between the brand and the publisher is absolutely critical for success. Users engage more often when a publisher’s tone of voice meshes well with a brand’s core values and audience. Here are a couple of examples of this synergy in action:

National Geographic with Brita

https://www.facebook.com/23497828950/posts/10156676165733951

 

In this partnership with Brita, National Geographic created a beautiful content experience that educates users about the consequences of bottled water. The piece is fully aligned with National Geographic’s reverential coverage of nature. On the brand side, Brita positions its water-filter products as alternatives to bottled water. This combination creates a value powerhouse for everyone involved and engages Natgeo’s user base in an innovative way with content that is unique and engaging.

Win Schuler’s and Food Network

https://www.facebook.com/FoodNetwork/videos/1220718271463314/

 

In this branded video, Food Network does what it does best: shares a yummy recipe with its audience. Adding Win Shuler’s cheddar into the mix feels natural, and the result is fantastic engagement numbers for the post, bringing value to the publisher, the brand, and most importantly, the user.

Common Distribution Pitfalls

As I mentioned earlier, paid distribution is usually a critical part of making branded content succeed. At Keywee, we’ve worked with hundreds of publishers over the years, helping them distribute their content on Facebook. As a result, we’ve pretty much seen it all, and the truth is that branded content done right isn’t as easy as it seems. Here are a few common pitfalls:

1) Going for the aggressive sell: Publishers don’t always create custom content. Sometimes they post a direct advertisement on their feed. This may fit within a brand’s reach demands, but it doesn’t do much for the publisher’s credibility. These posts diminish trust and are likely to grab more ire than likes or clicks.

Exchanging quality and value in return for a user’s attention is critical to keeping users around. If a publisher doesn’t want to go as far as creating custom content, a smaller-effort initiative like a sweepstakes in conjunction with the brand is a nice middle-ground solution that benefits the user.

2) Over-estimating organic reach: Most publishers commit to a set number of views when selling a content package. There’s usually no separation between paid and organic traffic. When publishers present the results to the brand at the end of an initiative, there’s only “traffic.” It’s not uncommon for a publisher to overestimate its organic reach and then, with a few weeks to go on the initiative, deploy massive paid campaigns to fill in the traffic gaps. The result is a hastily conceived campaign that can quickly become costly.

Fortunately, publishers can easily avoid this with a bit more planning. Whether running their own campaigns or buying through a vendor, it’s fairly simple to work more strategically. If they start executing a conservatively paced and well-planned paid campaign from day one of the initiative, the overall cost and performance will only benefit. The worst-case scenario is that the promised numbers are reached earlier than expected. Even in that situation, there’s a good chance that advertising dollars will be saved overall.

3) Limited reporting: The publisher-brand relationship is very similar to that between an agency and client; there is a customer who is paying for a service and requires proper attention. It’s incredibly common for a customer to want as much information as possible. If a campaign was sold based on impressions, that doesn’t mean that this is the only metric the customer will want to see.

When planning a campaign, remember that the customer will want to see deeper metrics. For example, a publisher could be promoting a video created for the brand. Even if the main metric is an impression, the publisher should keep an eye on the 3- or 10-second view numbers because the client will certainly have an eye on them. Another example is demographic breakdowns. If the publisher committed to a wide array of locations and audiences, and the content is being viewed only by a small subset, then pivoting the targeting strategy becomes critical for success and the brand’s satisfaction.

4) Publisher – brand misalignment: As I mentioned earlier, synergy between a brand and a publisher is critical for success. On the flip-side of this, misalignment can easily turn into a failure on all ends. When putting together branded content packages, the publisher should ask if the content would fit into their editorial vision if it wasn’t a part of the sold package. If the answer is no, then there’s a good chance the content won’t resonate with the user.

Looking Ahead

As long as digital content and advertising prevail, so will branded content. That being said, there are big changes afoot that will significantly impact the brand-publisher relationship.

1) 5G: There have been a lot of predictions about how 5G will affect everything from online shopping to people’s health. What branded content creators should probably keep in mind, at least in the short term, is that video streaming on smartphones will have far less friction than before. 5G is expected to be about 100 times faster than 4G, making streaming on mobile devices easier. Though earlier “pivot to video” pontifications were a bit overblown in hindsight, the strength of improved streaming options shouldn’t be overlooked. Publishers should expect brands to have more aggressive viewability demands as a result.

2) Performance content: Facebook has been encouraging brands to share select performance data with publishers and influencers. For Facebook the value is clear: Performance marketing usually leads to incremental revenue. For brands and publishers, these are choppy waters. Content plays a significant role in the buyers’ journey, but it’s still very difficult to fully attribute it to purchase decisions. A person reading an article about sneakers will not automatically go out and buy a pair. In other words, content consumption does not directly correlate to purchase intent. So far publishers have been hesitant to adopt this innovation, and brand adoption is yet to be seen. That being said, publishers will probably benefit from preparing themselves for a scenario in which brands will ask for more performance-driven metrics.

3) Shop the ‘gram: Instagram is slowly rolling out a new feature that creates a direct funnel to the brand checkout page on the platform. In other words, users will be able to click on a tagged product and immediately be directed to its checkout page. This allows for a seamless user experience and is expected to be a boon for ecommerce brands. Publishers should be on the lookout for requests of this type in the year ahead.

All in all, when it comes to branded content, the bottom line is simple: The combination of synergic content, expectation managing, and proper planning can create a value powerhouse for everyone involved. If publishers stick to these fundamentals, they can easily set themselves up for success.

Why Influencer Marketing Is Going From Fad to Marketing Trend

I have a prediction for 2020. I think 2020 will be the year when influencer marketing becomes a “big time” tactic. A confluence of factors are driving influencer marketing, including the supporting trends of historically low brand trust and the growing difficulty in getting meaningful brand exposure.

I have a prediction for 2020. I think 2020 will be the year when influencer marketing becomes a “big time” tactic.

A confluence of factors are driving influencer marketing, including the supporting trends of historically low brand trust and the growing difficulty in getting meaningful brand exposure.

Along with this prediction, I would like to make three recommendations for marketers to consider:

  • First, recognize that influencer marketing is still just an ad channel with good and bad exposure opportunities.
  • Second, Influencer takes discipline to manage. Most brands will want to work with multiple influencers to target a broader audience and the process can get unwieldy, quickly.
  • Finally, Influencer marketing will be hard to measure, but measure it you must.

Why I Think Influencer Marketing Is Here to Stay

We are spending an enormous amount of time on our smartphones and the bulk of that time is spent consuming entertaining or informative content. As a result, marketers have been pumping billions into mobile adverts.

One way that marketers have tried to reach consumers is through mobile banner ads. Every advertiser knows that most clickthroughs are accidental outcomes of trying to close the ad.

While video ads have better luck, it is still not stellar. IPG Media brands Media Lab published findings in 2017 that 65% of users commonly skip video ads.

Personally, that number feels low. When legitimate brand exposure does occur, it is dampened by the historically low levels of brand trust. That’s something that I describe as a silent tax on brand exposures.

The solution to this crisis is finding quality exposure. Brands can build trust with content providers, loosely called influencers.

Why Brands Still Need to Be Careful

Before we all start an ad bubble (and it may have already started), there are many reasons to be cautious of influencer marketing.

  • First, not everyone with compelling content is an influencer. But they are all called influencers. Some content providers just have “train wreck” value, and followers see them as part of a digital menagerie — with no credibility.
  • Second, it is also possible that influencers have artificially inflated their follower count. Most social platforms, so far, are not interested in policing follower counts beyond weeding out bots.
  • Third, influencers may not have a relationship with their followers. This limits their ability to influence on behalf of brands.

The full list of cautions around influencer marketing is longer. The larger lesson is this; Influencer marketing is a big opportunity, but it is also full of low-quality opportunities.

Now for the Good News

Influencer marketing works very well when influencers are carefully selected, and the brand content is authentic.

A 2019 report by Mediakix states that 80% of marketers found influencer marketing “effective” or “very effective.” However, to achieve good results takes discipline. This includes a willingness to mine social and other online data to understand the influencer’s own brand and history. Some influencers are not well-known beyond a core following. They sometimes have taken positions or done things that may not associate well with your brand.

A key step should be testing them for brand fit. Good judgment is important, but not enough. There are a growing number of tech and data-driven approaches to scan social history and bring forward potential issues. Making sure you understand how unintended brand traits may transfer onto your brand is also important. A good brand fit study is critical; especially if big dollars are involved.

Once you are comfortable with the brand fit, then comes the fun part. How do you leverage the influencer’s credibility in a way that feels authentic? There are many models for how this is done. One involves sponsoring content with a simple acknowledgment from the influencer. A better model is having the influencer interact with your brand and make it part of their engaging content. For this to work, brands have to cede some creative control to the influencers. A smart influencer will be attuned to actions where they might seem disingenuous — or worse, look like a shill. The advice most successful influencer marketing pros will give is to let the influencer be themselves and don’t over-prescribe.

Influencer Marketing ROI

Finally, we come to measurement. And it is the biggest challenge facing influencer marketing. Not only are the number of views, likes, and followers often over-reported, they are also weak measures of engagement and tough to link with real financial value.

The right approach means making measurement and analytics considerations a part of the content design process.

When thinking about content, everyone should seek out opportunities to make it digitally interactive. Unlike the commercials of old, digital channels provide many opportunities to interact with content, such as forwards, downloads, comments, and shares. These deeper engagement measures tend to be less bloated and better reflect viewer intent.

As a result, you are better able to measure campaign success. I have also found that they correlate better with financial outcomes.

Taming Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing today is often described as the “Wild West.” Anyone who has heard this analogy knows it really means chaos with immense potential.

The good thing about this channel is there are literally thousands of small influencers with whom brands can experiment to uncover that potential.

An SEO Consultant’s 4-Point SEO Holiday Wish List for Santa

This year, I want to take a more childish approach and write an SEO wish list for Santa. Here are four things that I want from Santa. These wishes are not big, so I hope Santa can deliver this list.

As I write this post, Thanksgiving and the rush to the end of the year are upon us. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, for it is filled with good cheer, good eats, and no expectation that gifts will be exchanged.

In the past at Thanksgiving, I have written about gratitude. But this year, I want to take a more childish approach and write an SEO wish list for Santa. Here are four things that I want from Santa. These wishes are not big, so I hope Santa can deliver this list:

  • Make all of my clients’ sites super-speedy
  • Teach all of my client teams how to write unique, valuable content — faster
  • Make all client structured data instantly accurate, complete, and error-free
  • Fix all mobile search/usability problems, immediately

Why Is This My Wish List?

Although each of these wishes are for client sites, this is, in fact, a selfish wish list. Fast sites are still the gold standard — table stakes for good SEO results. If Santa will supercharge all of my client sites, then the other SEO tactics that I recommend will have a firm and fast base to run from. It is foolish, read borderline delusional, to assume that a slow or marginally fast site is going to deliver a successful search optimization project.

Content Team Challenges Grow

Today, the message that high-quality content is an SEO must-have has finally seeped deeper into organizations, beyond just the SEO team. As the understanding the impact of content on SEO results grows, it is this SEO’s expectation that content teams will be tasked with creating more and more high-quality content. To meet the demand, content development teams will need to create more content, faster. This wish benefits the SEO consultant and the client.

Structured Data — A Key to Stronger Results

Structured data provide information that search engines can use to understand a site’s content and provide the best search results possible. Adding Schema markup to the HTML improves the way a page displays in search results pages (SERPs) by enhancing the rich snippets that are displayed beneath the page title. The rich results give searchers cues that a page may, in fact, address what they are searching. Clearer signals will result in improved results, but the structured data vocabulary is still evolving. My wish for instant, accurate, complete, and error-free structured data for client sites is a wish for an easier path.

Unaddressed Mobile Problems Are a Brake on Results

Mobile is firmly entrenched as the device of choice for a growing majority of searchers. To deny the importance of mobile is to fly in the face of reality. If a site has mobile issues that are flagged by Google’s Search Console, then it is fair to say that these will act as a brake on the search optimization program’s results. Mobile errors are — to use a sports metaphor — the equivalent of unforced errors. Quickly fixing mobile search/usability problems limits the damage; hence, my wish.

Perhaps, if you believe in Santa, you may get your wishes granted. I know Santa will bring me these four little wishes, because I’ve been very good this year. Maybe?

Do Marketing Influencers Really Influence? Or Do Brands?

The critical role of marketing influencers on driving sales and loyalty for brands in both the B2B and B2C space is nothing new. We marketers have been “influencing the influencers” for decades. But the game has changed and continues to do so at a rapid pace.

The critical role of marketing influencers on driving sales and loyalty for brands in both the B2B and B2C space is nothing new. We marketers have been “influencing the influencers” for decades. But the game has changed and continues to do so at a rapid pace.

Now, with all of the technology available, anyone can create videos on any topic, spark viral marketing campaigns, and get instant fame, likes, and tweets on social media and start influencing others in some fashion at some level. As a result, “influencer marketing” is much more complex, hard to define, and much harder to nail. Yet it is also painstakingly more important than ever.

To succeed at influencing influencers to influence purchasers, we need to step back and review some of the basic fundamentals:

First, what really is an influencer who is worth is influencing in today’s market, when just about anyone can pin on that name? It used to be we could identify influencers by the numbers of followers they had on social media. Well, that’s not so easy in an age where likes and followers can be bought, and often are. There are now many other characteristics of “influence” that marketers need to address.

According to an Influencer Marketing post from Feb. 1:

An influencer is an individual who has the power to affect purchase decisions of others because of his/her authority, knowledge, position, or relationship with his/her audience. An individual who has a following in a particular niche, which they actively engage with.

Given this definition, who are the top influencers today?

Well, according to MediaKix, an influencer marketing agency that aligns brands with social media influencers ruling YouTube and Instagram, the top influencers in the world are young adults who have mastered the ability to entertain millions of followers by making fun of life as we know it today. They comment on beauty or fashion trends in ways that entertain and inform, or engage followers in game activities. Seriously, most of you reading this post will find little if any value in their trendy, narcissistic, and often meaningless tweets; but somehow, these people are influencing millions daily by just doing nothing but ranting or raving on video channels that anyone can access and use.

Yet these influencers with little talent compared with mainstream entertainers who cross over the big screen to the little screen, sell. MediaKix posts examples of influencer marketing campaigns that engaged these “influencers” in marketing campaigns for clients like Kenneth Cole. The marketing influencers show results that include social reaches of tens of millions, story views also in the millions, high levels of social engagement rates, and, of course, increased sales for sponsoring brands.

Marketing Influencers Seriously Influence Sales

Geometry Global and gen.video released a report in 2017 at VidCon that showed 90% of social media users are influenced to make a purchase after seeing content. Categories most influenced by social media content are consumer electronics, fashion food/beverage, health/beauty, and travel.

Quite importantly, they also learned that social media influencers are now the “most effective and trusted source at driving sales, 94% more than friends/family, and more than six times more than celebrities.

Wow.

When you look at those numbers, its hard not to wonder how traditional broadcast channels are still able to get advertising dollars.

B2B influencers on social media have far few followers than pop culture influencers, who have as many as 80 million followers on Instagram. Yet, the followers they do have pay attention to every word and every idea. B2B influencers ruling social media are those who share their wisdom, ideas, and help others learn from them, without asking for anything in return, other than maybe a follow or like.

By “influencing” others with their intellect and stories that followers can relate to and actually emulate in their own jobs, they have anchored themselves as thought leaders beyond just their tweets or posts. They are authors and speakers. They are executives at companies who are changing the world as we know it, or some aspect of the business world. The leading B2B influencer on social media, Tim Hughes of London, has fewer than 200,000 Twitter followers, which pales in comparison with the consumer influencers who entertain with short, often raunchy, episodes about their daily lives, or jokes about others’ lives. Instead, he tweets his expertise and insights on digital marketing and social selling, and provides tidbits about his personal life. And people look forward to reading everything he says.

The key to a successful influencer marketing campaign for businesses is exactly the above. Make your tweets so relevant and valuable that people look forward to reading your posts and learning from your every word. Another key factor is to spur influence among all areas of your business, not just your leadership. You can light up social media much faster with multiple influencers than just highlighting your leadership and their ideas.

The first step in influencer marketing is to recognize the “influencers” in your own ranks. That’s your staff at all levels, not just the top. Note that many of the top influencers are employees of companies vs. owners or founders. They tweet about what they do, what they learn, and what moves them within the context of their brands and their own personal visions.

Successful employees have a passion for what your business does, and what they do to further your business. And they have intellectual capital and experiences that are worth sharing. As the marketing lead for your company, you can direct social conversations and get people talking about your company, your insights, your value propositions, and even a day in the life of your business.

Here are five ways you can start influencing people at all levels of your industry:

  1. Identify a Theme a month with which you want to align your company’s expertise. Define talking points that support your position, and potential social media themes to help get those talking points read and shared.
  2. Build Relevant Content for your employees to share on their business and even personal accounts. Align the content with what matters most to your audiences and write it in a way that creates anticipation for subsequent posts. It’s not that hard, if you know what’s on the mind of your audiences and have even basic writing skills.
  3. Enable Employees to set up social media accounts, specifically to tweet about your business and industry. Break down those security firewalls and encourage employees to play around on social media on the job and tweet within the guidelines you set.
  4. Set Guidelines about what can be said, and not per compliance and proprietary issues, and ask employees to tTweet about it.
  5. Use the Business Pages on Social Sites to Reflect Your Top Leaderships’ Thoughts and Insights, and post regularly. Encourage employees to share those thoughts with the network they build within their peer circles.

By setting up employees at all levels to be influencers among peers at all levels, the awareness and buzz about your brand will grow exponentially. And as we have learned from recent political elections, awareness gets more attention and action than just about anything else. People won’t necessarily remember every tweet, comment, position you take, or every insight or idea. But they will remember your name when it comes to “voting” for brands or partners to consider for business deals.

How Long Should Your Content Marketing Articles Be?

How long your content marketing articles are is critical to their success, but there is no one right length. How long any particular article should be depends on what that article’s purpose is, who you’re trying to reach, and where they are in the buying process.

If you’re like most marketers, you’ve got two very different voices whispering in your ears about length for your content marketing materials. They may not be devil and angel exactly, but they are most certainly not in agreement.

On the one hand, er, shoulder, you’ve got a voice telling you that nobody reads anymore, everyone scans, so don’t bother making long-form content. Keep it short and digestible.

On the other shoulder, there is a voice (perhaps in the form of your SEO expert) telling you that every article needs to break at least 300 words — ideally, 500 — to effectively rank well.

As you try to decide which voice to heed, here are a few things to consider.

What Data Tells Us About Content Length

A quick Google search will give you all sorts of information about how long your content marketing pages should be.

Plenty of sources will site the 300- to 500-word minimum mentioned above.

Neil Patel says that he focuses on content in the 2,000- to 3,000-word range. (While, at the same time, advising us to not write content that is too in-depth!)

Seth Godin seems to be doing quite well for himself with much shorter content.

So who’s right? Everyone and no one. Patel is doing what works for him. Godin has found a different path. You could — and should — argue that those aren’t really fair comparisons, as both of those marketers are “stars” on some level, and have much larger followings than you might.

That’s the point, though; there are always mitigating circumstances. And what’s right for you won’t necessarily work for someone else. Which means what the data should tell you is that you need to gather your own data.

Start with whatever you’re comfortable doing. If more frequent, shorter pieces feel right, dive right in. If you feel that longer-form articles are more your speed, that’s great. In either case, track what you’re doing, monitor the results, and experiment with content at other lengths. (And in other formats, for that matter.)

That’s the only way to find out what your audience wants from you.

What Is Your Article Designed to Do?

The next question you should be asking is, “What is my goal for this content?” Presumably, you’ll publish content of different types and with different goals in mind. Long-form content may be just the ticket for prospects who are close to making a buying decision, while shorter pieces that link to a lead magnet of some kind are the right way to gain trust with prospects who are just discovering you.

Similar differences might exist for different audience segments or for different product/service lines you may be marketing. Be sure you match the length and format of your content to its intended purpose and audience.

How to Use Varying Content Lengths to Your Advantage

Once we come to understand that different content lengths will work for us in different ways, we can layer on the ways in which our content elements should relate to one another. One popular way of thinking about this is the solar system model.

As you’d imagine, the idea here is to have a variety of “smaller” content elements orbiting around a bigger piece of cornerstone content. Not all of those orbiting pieces will necessarily be shorter, but there will be a general progression of large to small as you move away from the center.

For example, a how-to guide in the form of an eBook might be your cornerstone content. Each chapter of that book could perhaps be developed into a presentation (and slide deck) of its own. Many of the slides in that deck might work well as individual short videos.

Don’t Forget the Common Sense

What’s important to keep in mind is that while copy length does matter for your content marketing, there is no ideal length for all content marketing articles. There are many ideal lengths.

If you’re just starting out — or are wiping the decks and making a fresh start — and aren’t sure what lengths will work, it may be helpful to think about the conversations your sales, marketing, and customer service teams have with your prospects and clients. There will be an arc to those conversations that should guide the depth of your content for prospects at various places in the buying process. Your content length should match that arc.

When you’ve got it right, your data will let you know, and you would be wise to match your ongoing work to your data — while still experimenting to find the next great sweet spot for your content marketing.

Flash — It’s Gone: In 2020, Google Search Will Ignore Adobe Flash

When it first launched, Flash was the answer to a static Web, providing rich animation and action. Flash was eagerly welcomed and embraced by Web developers and users. It grew so popular that the Adobe Flash Player runtime, which lets users play Flash content, was installed 500 million times in the second half of 2013.

When it first launched, Flash was the answer to a static Web, providing rich animation and action. Flash was eagerly welcomed and embraced by Web developers and users. It grew so popular that the Adobe Flash Player runtime, which lets users play Flash content, was installed 500 million times in the second half of 2013, with 300 million installations on Android and iOS alone.

Even with this huge popularity, Flash is going to be gone by the end of 2020, replaced by new, faster, more efficient, and secure open standards development technologies, such as HTML5. These newer technologies are more search-friendly than Flash, which required significant efforts to ensure successful indexing.

The lifespan of webpages in search does not neatly coincide with corporate end-of-life announcements for support of specific technologies; therefore, Google’s Oct. 28, 2019, announcement is noteworthy. It says that later this year, Google Search will stop supporting Flash content, will begin ignoring it for search, and will stop indexing standalone SWF files.

Flash Has Burned Out Slowly

In July 2017, Adobe announced that it would no longer be updating and distributing the Flash Player at the end of 2020, and has been actively encouraging content creators to migrate their existing Flash content to the new open formats.

Browser developers have been sunsetting their support for Flash content, forcing users into elaborate workarounds to view Flash content. For example, Microsoft Edge, FireFox 69, and Chrome Version 76 launched in July 2019, and have — by default — disabled Flash.

However, a large volume of Flash content remains on the Web.

In the search-related announcement, Google blithely noted that “Most users and websites won’t see any impact from this change.” I would like to suggest that, as they say in the auto industry, mileage may vary.

How to Check for Search Impact?

Many large sites have thousands of pages, a volume containing valueless antiques. They are in the company’s digital attic. These treasure troves of forgotten content are often the product of unredirected orphaned initiatives.

Did your site once have a little Flash game or a Flash-powered carousel?

These once loved, but now forgotten, pages may still be in the Google index. To ensure that you indeed see no impact from the end of Flash, run a quick check for Flash files on your site. If you have converted all of your content to new technologies, you can still not rest. Just run a check for Flash files from your site that may be in Google. If you do not find any, then enjoy the ride.

If you still have Flash content, you need to convert it to a newer technology. Don’t just use an online converter. These are not necessarily secure. If the file is worthy, redevelop it or make sure that it is properly redirected.

3 Ways to Make Your Content Marketing Work Harder for You

Content marketing success requires work before you begin writing, as well as after you’ve hit the publish button. Here are tips to help ensure you’re reaching the right audience with the right message.

To make your content marketing do more, you need to do more with it.

There are any number of reasons you may not be seeing the return you expect on your content marketing. Here are a few, and how you can address the issue to improve your results.

‘Write It and They Will Read It’ Is Wrong

Long gone are the days when anyone sane thinks that building a website will “automagically” win you an audience and convert that audience into paying clients. But there’s less clarity around the idea that simply publishing your content — even if it’s great content — is enough to power marketing properly. We see too many marketers doing just that.

The truth is that once you’ve published your content, you’re about halfway there. You still have the work of getting your content in front of the right audience. We can’t cover here all of the ways in which you can promote your content, but the list certainly includes social media, email marketing, paid digital advertising, and even old stalwarts like direct mail.

The goal is to reach beyond your existing network to attract new prospects. At the same time, you should be sure that what you’re writing encourages engagement. Will your prospects want to share it with their colleagues as they’re considering their options? Does it offer a different perspective than anything else out there?

You Haven’t Done Your Competitive Research

Speaking of which, do you know what kind of content your competitors are publishing? If you’re publishing the same kind of content and they already have a bigger audience, you face an arduous task.

There’s just so much content marketing going on now that if you’re not standing out from the crowd naturally, you’re going to have to work that much harder at the promotion and distribution we talked about above.

You’ll find it much more fruitful to stake a separate ground; either by offering a different perspective, concentrating on a very tightly defined niche, or differentiating yourself in some other way. Forget any ideas you have of doing the same thing better. Except in the rare cases where your competition is truly asleep at the wheel, better is going to be in the eye of the beholder, and you may not be as obviously superior as you think in their eyes.

Relevance Is Not Irrelevant

Finally, there’s the holy grail of knowing that what you write matters to your audience. In the B2B world, nobody is on your website because they have a few hours to kill and they’ve already watched all of the videos on YouTube. They’re on your website because they have a problem to solve.

If your content doesn’t help them solve that problem or give them a greater understanding of what they should be considering as they search for the best-fit solution, it isn’t going to get read. So even if you do everything else right — carve out a niche and promote your content to an expanding audience — you’re not going to see content marketing results, because you’re not going to attract the right audience.

And ultimately, that’s the goal of content marketing: attract the right audience in a way that gains their trust and moves them toward a decision — hopefully, a decision to work with you.

Site Redesigns Don’t Always Improve Search Results

Many e-commerce sites redesign and relaunch with a new look in the fall to capture the attention of holiday shoppers. One of the stated goals of most site redesigns is the endless search for … improved search results. In this article, I’d like to provide some cautionary observations on why these efforts sometimes fail.

Many e-commerce sites redesign and relaunch with a new look in the fall to capture the attention of holiday shoppers. One of the stated goals of most site redesigns is the endless search for … improved search results. In this article, I’d like to provide some cautionary observations on why these efforts sometimes fail.

A clumsy redesign can cause a decline in search results; however, here are four less obvious reasons for inadvertent failure: Putting old wine in a new skin, larding up the optimization, rushing to judgment, and neglecting the infrastructure. Let’s explore each of these in a little more detail.

Old Wine in a New Skin

It is an error to assume that simply changing the look of the site’s templates will yield improved search results. Unless there are changes in the code, a rerouting of the customer journey, and reordering of the presentation, the site has merely undergone a “reskinning” not a redesign.

If the site simply has new imagery slapped on the same old site, the old wine has been poured into a new skin.

It is the same old wine, and no improvements will ensue. It is unwise to expect improved search results when nothing has changed that directly influences what a search engine (or a customer) encounters. For improved search results, changes must be made to the elements of the site that provide search signals. If there are no changes to any of the elements that signal relevancy, Google does not really care that your site templates are a new chic color with pretty graphics.

Relevancy signals might include:

  • Improvements to the customer journey that reduce bounce rate.
  • Recoding H1s and H2s can highlight the content that is significant for search.

Since search is signals-driven, there is no reason to expect improved results — unless the signals change.

Larding up the Optimization

Just adding content is not, in itself, a winning search strategy.

Yes! Today, content is king. And content provides the most essential signal for search. Adding content that is over-optimized, larded thickly with too many keywords, and offering nothing of value, is a recipe for harming the site’s search results, not improving them.

As I have previously written, sites perform better when the content is regularly refreshed and pruned to improve the search signals. Simply adding a large volume of new content without reviewing, trimming, and pruning the existing content will not yield the improvements in search results that can be seen with the use of a more strategic approach that views each piece of content as a signal flag. A large field of jumbled flags will not provide the same clarity that fewer more prominent flags will.

Rushing to Judgment

In almost 40 years working in technology, I have hardly ever worked on a project that was completed ahead of schedule with every planned element completed. If there are elements of a redesign that will influence search, skipping past them or only partially completing the tasks invites poor results.

In my experience, it is sometimes wise to focus keen attention on those elements of the redesign that will influence search ahead of other less sensitive areas. If tradeoffs must be made, it is important to focus on the search-sensitive elements (recoding, rerouting, and strengthening the search signals) as opposed to those elements that are visual only.

Neglecting Infrastructure

Site speed and a positive mobile experience are important for search results, as well as customer interaction. Therefore, it is important to include improving site speed and the mobile experience as part of a redesign or relaunch. If it is slated for post-relaunch, the search results will not necessarily improve. Fix infrastructure first, then improve the signals, and finish with the visuals and you can expect a successful relaunch.

Don’t put old wine a new bottle, Google is a connoisseur of site content.