How’s Your Competitive Keyword Research Going?

Every business does some marketing research. SEOs have, for many years, done competitive keyword research. Today, I want to question how this is done beyond just using keyword research tools.

Every business does some marketing research. SEOs have, for many years, done competitive keyword research.

Today, I want to question how this is done beyond just using keyword research tools. Because SEO is so often all about the tools, any discussion on competitive keyword research would be incomplete without a listing of some of the tools.

The tools produce huge volumes of data that the keyword researcher must filter through and determine the usability and applicability to the target site. This is the point, the last mile so to speak, that I would like to focus on today.

Competitive Keyword Research Tools Abound

Ask a group of SEOs what their favorite competitive keyword research tool is, and you will get almost as many answers as there are members in the group. With an abundance of free and paid tools, it is hard to choose a favorite. Here is a very short list of just a few of the tools, listed in alphabetical order:

In my practice, I use a limited number of tools. This is a personal preference born out of both time challenges and a skepticism of the validity of all tools. I have long stood by the conviction that it takes considerable time to develop proficiency in using a tool and adapting the data to work processes. For this reason, I strongly recommend trying several tools and then embracing just a few for regular use. (In my own practice, I have used Spyfu for many years.) This has allowed me to develop consistent processes and longitudinal data. It is my belief that longitudinal data leads to longer-term thinking and more strategic results. Because most of the tools depend on second-hand keyword data, they all — at best — give a picture, a representation of the information, not a photograph.

My warning is always to use the data from competitive keyword research tools for direction. Don’t marry the results.

The Last Mile With Competitive Keyword Research — Don’t Get Lost

Using the tools is not the last mile, particularly for competitive keyword research. I have too many times heard business owners tell me that they have no competitors; however, they all want more customers. Every business has a competitor, even highly innovative businesses. They are often seeking to replace or extend on an existing business or business model. Before using the tools, it is essential to identify the competitive landscape.

With each of the tools, the researcher can retrieve a huge volume of raw or semi-filtered data, which then must be resifted and analyzed. Your proficiency in handling the tools and how this fits your processes is key to doing this analysis. The process is — at best — tedious, and many try to shorten the filtering and sifting process. Because the tools are meant to broaden the researcher’s perspective, these shortcuts can short-circuit the process. Try to plan adequate time to explore the possibilities. This exploration process is particularly important for e-commerce long-tail keyword research.

Because most of my work is with e-commerce clients, the last mile is making sure that my competitive keyword research fits the merchandise mix of the commerce site. This last mile will often require exploring both the identified competitive sites and the target site. This shopping the competition is particularly important for long-tail, product-driven keyword research.

Plan to spend time delving deeply into each competitor’s merchandise offering. Go shopping, so to speak. Assess how their focus compares to your target site. Compare their offerings to your target. If you find gaps, then you may need to find specific competitors who fill just that gap, or you may need to refocus more your list of competitors. Then, when you recommend keywords, they will match the merchandise offered and the merchant’s unique value proposition.

This is the last mile.

Data, Data Everywhere: Nary a Bargain to Find?

Stephen Yu’s recent and extremely thought-provoking piece on AI started me wondering once again about the dangers of data overload and whether we’ll ever really, really understand the purchasing decisions people make, how they make them and be able to track them accurately.

Data mining
“Big_Data_Prob,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by KamiPhuc

Stephen Yu’s recent and extremely thought-provoking piece on AI started me wondering once again about the dangers of data overload and whether we’ll ever really, really understand the purchasing decisions people make, how they make them and be able to track them accurately.

Because today’s machines gobble data and — like my dog eats anything he can get jaws around — we marketers seem to search for more and more bytes in the hope that sifting through this mega data will hold the keys to the holy grail of maximum profitability. Perhaps it will. But as a disciple of Lester Wunderman, I can’t let go of his oft-expressed prescient warning that “Data is an expense. Knowledge is a bargain.”

Admittedly, when this was first expressed, data was one hell of a lot more expensive to keep and handle than it is today and shaking knowledge out of it was very difficult. But that’s hardly the point. Our trade press is now overflowing with titles like “Planning and Measuring Social Media Campaigns” (Sysomos), the “Email Marketing Metric You May Not Know” and unnumbered guides to the customer journey. But I’m still waiting for the definitive article that leaves all of the peripheral data by the side of the road and presents a usable and believable knowledge-based metric model to measure the cost of each step in the journey from awareness through to final purchase. In today’s multi-media environment, that’s the metric model we are all waiting for. Will we ever get it? Will AI provide it? I’m not so sure.

There is historically a different focus between top management whose attention is quite sensibly on macro numbers and operational marketers who know that it is the micro numbers that spotlight big opportunities. The ROMI, the return on the total marketing investment, is the bottom line for both: How much did we earn for how much marketing money invested? Simple.

But at what milestones in the customer journey did the momentum toward purchase increase and at what others did the potential customer take a turn away from purchase and why? That’s the type of data we need if we are to optimize our practice and it will surely impact the ROMI. Sadly in many cases, we will never know.

Recently, some of my Brazilian colleagues created a very strong email campaign as the first stage in persuading well-segmented prospects to clickthrough to a website to register interest and gain a price advantage in making a major purchase. The client reported that while the website was receiving a lot of activity, only a tiny fraction came as the expected clickthrough from the emails. The client was understandably angry and it didn’t make any sense.

Every adult Brazilian has a unique CPF number, which is regularly requested and used to identify the individual in financial transactions. It’s rather like an American Social Security number. Because my colleagues were fortunate enough to have the CPFs of the prospects to whom the emails had been sent and as registration on the website also required a CPF, it was a relatively easy task to compare the two groups to determine how many of the registrants had been sent the emails, even if they hadn’t availed themselves of the clickthrough option. It turned out to be a happily large percentage.

While research has been undertaken to determine why, any measurement of the relation of emails to registrations and their cost would have been both misguided and meaningless. If the marketers had decided to stop using the emails because, as they said, ”emails didn’t generate any response,” they would have been making a critical error.

Perhaps that’s a long way around the issue of just why, with all of the enormous data and sophisticated tools at our disposal, we just can’t develop a meaningful metric model that reliably tracks the prospect along the path to becoming a customer. And it argues that while AI will certainly add valuable knowledge, getting inside the head of a prospect and truly understanding his/her actions is a long way off.

10 Resources for Multitasking Marketers

The end of the year can be therapeutic. Open enrollment is over. Budget requests are nearly done. Recurring meetings are canceled. I use this brief window of time to clean out files, consider resources I’ve been curious about, and think about how to simplify things. This year I’m also sharing 10 time-saving resources for multitasking marketers.

The end of the year can be therapeutic. Open enrollment is over. Budget requests are nearly done. Recurring meetings are canceled. I use this brief window of time to clean out files, consider resources I’ve been curious about, and think about how to simplify things. This year I’m also sharing 10 time-saving resources for multitasking marketers.

Marketing technologies and channels have changed a lot over the years. Some services and processes that used to require long-term contracts or high monthly costs are now available through low-cost, Web-based interfaces. Although they may not offer the same level of detail and control as their predecessors, they offer a good combination of functionality and ease of use. And if you want to focus more of your time on strategy, you probably need to streamline recurring processes that consume a lot of time.

  1. Canva.com — Need to quickly create a graphic? Canva simplifies the design process with an easy-to-use interface and 1-click resizing for various applications, including social media channels. This saves a ton of time previously spent manually resizing visuals. Also, Canva recently added a print shop function so you can order collateral materials for delivery with the same sort of ease.
  2. Maptitude, ArcGIS, Alteryx, Google Earth Pro and PolicyMap — Depending on your mapping needs, one or more of these resources can help you generate a basic map for handouts, to embed in your website, or to produce a strategic planning map with layers of data points and demographics. Free trial periods allow you to experiment to see which best fits your needs.
  3. Venngage.com — Everyone wants an infographic, but visual storytelling can be complicated to pull off. Venngage provides a variety of templates with enough customization capabilities to suit common purposes. This allows you to consider using infographics for all kinds of needs, including training and process navigation. This can free up your limited design resources for key projects.
  4. Adobe — The Adobe Color Wheel tool makes it easier to find good color combinations with color formulas for RGB and HEX uses.
  5. Shakr.com — Videos are easier to make with Shakr. You can choose standard horizontal or mobile phone-friendly vertical formats, upload still images or video files, add text and music and get a video product that works for many day-to-day needs. Social media clip? Done.
  6. Symplur.com — The company’s free Healthcare Hashtags service shows you the social media hashtags used most often for health fields, conditions or topics. This is especially helpful for ensuring posts on narrow-interest topics gets to the right audience and have some staying power.
  7. Pixabay.com and Unsplash.com — These image libraries provide high-quality photographs that can be used in commercial work.  Use these to add variety to the usual stock image photos we all recognize. Incorporate them into your Canva design, Venngage infographic or Shakr video for a more interesting final product.
  8. Fiverr.com — Need to get out of the rut with your usual go-to, quick-turn freelancers? Fiverr connects you with specialized talent for all sorts of animation, graphic design, writing, music and other needs. Select budget and turn-around-time filters so you and the freelancer are clear on expectations.
  9. Tagcrowd.com — An easy way to generate a word cloud based on a document, website or text you enter. This is a visually interesting way to call out recurring themes from planning meeting notes, research verbatims or longer format documents that are usually skimmed.
  10. HelpaReporter.com — A service of Cision, HelpaReporter connects your experts to reporters who are on a deadline and looking for authoritative sources or interviews. This is a good way to introduce your in-house experts beyond local media outlets.

These are a few of the time-saving resources I’ve found helpful or interesting in 2017. I hope your holiday season offers a chance to think, explore and feel excited about what you can do in the coming year.

Creating Your Content Marketing Toolkit

One of the keys to content marketing success is consistency — consistency of message, consistency of effort and output, and consistency of approach. So it can be helpful to put together a set of resources, a toolkit, that are accessible to all members of your team for easy and immediate access as they tackle their various content marketing tasks.

Content Marketing Toolkit
Credit: Pixabay by Tero Vesalainen

One of the keys to content marketing success is consistency — consistency of message, consistency of effort and output, and consistency of approach.

That can be hard enough to achieve across a small team — even a one-person department. It gets considerably harder as team size increases.

So it can be helpful to put together a set of resources that are accessible to all members of your team for easy and immediate access as they tackle their various content marketing tasks.

These resources, or toolkit, work best if you build it with your team in mind. The same basic tools might be presented, organized or made available in different ways depending on whether you are

  • A small team vs. a larger or distributed team
  • An in-house team vs. consultants vs. a combination
  • A group that includes company employees outside of your marketing team (ALWAYS a great idea to include!)

The basics should include:

Editorial Calendar

Everyone should know what will be published when to avoid duplication of effort as well as gaps in your messaging.

Content Templates

These should be used for everything from social media posts to blog articles to infographics. The goal isn’t to make everything identical in a cookie-cutter kind of way, but to maintain the consistency we discussed earlier. Your content should be recognizable as your content.

Checklists

From fact-checking to product manager clearance to legal or regulatory review where necessary, every piece of content should pass through the same process before it’s available to the public. This is really a corner you do not want to cut.

Materials Libraries

Having photo collections, graphics and infographics, original research, and other evergreen material at your fingertips keeps you from reinventing the wheel every week. This is an area that typically takes some trial and error — and a reasonable investment — to get right. Once you have it right for your team, though, it may be the most valuable tool in your kit.

Clipping Files

This is an adjunct to the materials library, though often it’s treated as a sub-category within. The problem there is that it can discourage folks from gathering the “half-baked” ideas that later turn into great content, since those ideas aren’t fully formed enough to really fit into the library. (And worse, it’s possible that someone might take a not-ready-for-prime-time idea and create content around it.)

Brand Book and Style Guide

Stepping back from execution specific to your content marketing, there are also concerns to keep in mind for your brand more broadly. Your brand book and style guide should cover the visual aspects of your brand, of course, but also be very specific in laying out your house style for grammar, punctuation, tone and feeling.

Of course, you can go a lot deeper in all of these areas, though the value in doing so will depend largely on the kind of content you produce, the audience you’re producing it for, and the team you have producing it. We always recommend that you start with the basics and build each tool out based on how you find yourself using “version 1.” Version 2 will always be better, as you add what you need and eliminate the extraneous.

Stop Blaming Marketing Problems on Software

When faced with a large amount of unrefined, unstructured and uncategorized data, we must indeed fix the data first. Let’s not even think about blaming the data storage platforms like Hadoop, MongoDB or Teradata here. That would be like blaming rice storage facilities for not being able to refine rice for human consumption.

DataI often hear statements like “Our client has a Tableau problem.” Or, it is something about Hadoop or data platforms, as in “We have an issue with Hadoop.” What did it do, use offensive language? I wonder what the real issue is.

In any case, such general statements don’t help much. I guess a medical doctor feels the same way when she hears that her patient has a headache. What does that even mean, headache? What kind of headache? Prolonging or sporadic? Throbbing or sharp pain? Overall, or one-sided? Or, do you just want to avoid conversations with your spouse?

Symptoms are not always related to root causes. Why would marketers think they have a problem with Tableau? Isn’t that a reporting and display tool? Unless one doesn’t like the way a bubble chart comes out, nothing really is a Tableau problem.

More often than not, reporting issues stem back to the data. What could be the major issues with the report? Inaccuracy, inconsistency or just plain suckiness? If the data on the report don’t make any sense, we must dig deeper. And let’s not forget that reporting tools are not even designed to handle heavy-duty data manipulations. But if the report doesn’t make any sense or is hard to understand — well, then — let’s blame the designer of such a report, not the toolset.

For the record, I do not represent analytical toolset companies like SAS, SPSS or Tableau. Maybe they should share some blame, because they must have sold the toolsets as an almighty data mining tool that just does it all. But I am addressing the issue this way; as, at least for now, forming proper questions, defining problem statements, data modeling (for analytics), report design and, most importantly, deriving insights out of the report solidly remain as human functions.

Let’s break it down further. When faced with a large amount of unrefined, unstructured and uncategorized data, we must indeed fix the data first. Let’s not even think about blaming the data storage platforms like Hadoop, MongoDB or Teradata here. That would be like blaming rice storage facilities for not being able to refine rice for human consumption. In other words, we should not put too much of a burden on the data collection and storage systems when it comes to data refinement.

Data refinement should be dealt with as a separate entry altogether; between data collection (such as Hadoop) and data delivery (such as Tableau), each requiring different skillsets and expertise. Such data refinement work includes:

  • Data Hygiene and Edit: As no data source is immaculate. In fact, many analysts waste their valuable time on fixing dirty data (and following the steps listed below).
  • Data Categorization and Tagging: As uncategorized freeform data must be put into buckets and properly tagged for advanced analytics (refer to “Free Form Data Are Not Exactly Free”).
  • Data Consolidation: As disparate data sources must be “merged” (to create a “360-degree view of the customer” around a person, for example), or “concatenated” (to increase coverage by adding similar types of data).
  • Data Summarization and Variable Creation: To transform data to describe different levels (transaction, emails, customers, companies, etc.), as in converting transaction or event-level data into “descriptors of individual customers” (refer to “Beyond RFM Data”).
  • Treat Missing Values: As no data will ever be fully complete, we need to fill in the gaps either with statistical models or business rules (refer to “Missing Data Can Be Meaningful”).

If the salesperson who sold you the reporting toolset promised that the product would do all of these things, well, just ignore him. Even in the age of AI, these steps must be performed by separate machines (or teams) trained for specific tasks. Simply, machines are not that smart yet; AI trained for “recognition” won’t be able to “predict” and fill in the blanks for you. That also means that these are not to be done by human analysts all by themselves.

Nonetheless, the steps listed here must be completed before the reporting or any other analytical work even begins. We can even say that the reporting step is the simplest one of all. But only if the reports are designed properly first. And that is the catch.

No amount of pretty charts can be meaningful if there is no story behind it. That would be like watching a movie filled with so-called state-of-the-art special effects with no character development or viable storyline. That may work as a trailer, but that’s about it. Now, if you are an analyst having to present findings to a client or your boss, you don’t want to be the one who loses steam five minutes after the meeting begins. A 40-page PowerPoint deck? So what? What does all of that mean? What are we supposed to do about it?

Cool Tech for Content Curation, Project Management

When assessing the best tools for content curation and project management, it’s important to identify what your needs are before diving into possible solutions.

When assessing the best tools for content curation and project management, it’s important to identify what your needs are before diving into possible solutions.

Need to share reliable social media content, quickly? Try Buffer. Want to keep better tabs on your editorial and social media calendars? Experiment with Trello. Looking for a marketing automation tool to synchronize your messaging across platforms? Go for IFTTT. These tools not only enhance workflow, they help streamline team communication and collaboration.

content curation, project management

Content Curation, Social Media Scheduling Tool: Buffer

buffer-connectBuffer is useful for those with small blogs (like this) who are managing social media calendars on-the-go. One of the best features is “Content Inbox,” a source for curated content tailored to the interests of your followers. You can easily push this content to your Twitter, Google+, Facebook and Instagram accounts to keep your audiences engaged throughout the day and your messaging consistent. Visit the “Analytics” tab for more on how your posts performed and even schedule top performers to Re-Buffer at a later date.

twitter-analytics1Buffer is also useful for social media scheduling with its built-in queue. You can either set your own post schedule or let Buffer choose for you based on past user engagement data.

buffer-schedule

There’s no doubt that Buffer is essential for social media marketers, content creators and anyone else looking to take control of their many social media accounts. Give Buffer a try to keep your curated content flowing without any hiccups.

Editorial Calendar, Project Management Tool: Trello

Trello is by far the most intuitive, visual and powerful tool out there for small blog creators to keep tabs on their editorial calendar. Trello is incredibly easy to learn for any type of user (whether beginner or advanced). Create lists and then drag-and-drop cards within them to supercharge the publishing process.

Trello

Label cards, add team members and use Power-Ups to integrate with Google Drive, Twitter, Slack and more. This is incredibly important for small bloggers, as content should be strictly managed and shared with the team throughout the conceptualization process.

Trello scheduling Kia Street

We use Trello for just about everything at st-tech — including our own personal to-dos. The platform’s versatility and usability make it a must-try.

Marketing Automation Tool: IFTTT

IFTTT is a fascinating automation tool in which you can create recipes that allow communication between your devices, apps and systems via the Internet of Things (IoT). This tool is heavily used for marketing automation, as well as boosting personal productivity. The interface is simple and designing recipes is even easier now, thanks to IFTTT applets.

How to Use IFTTT

IFTTT Kia blog post tech

If This, Then That is best for those who utilize a ton of Web apps and services on a daily basis. So, how does IFTTT work? You start by selecting a recipe and turning it on. Recipes are easily programmable to fit your needs as you’re able to use “ingredients” that add custom specifications.

IFTTT Kia blog post

Crafting your own recipe is perfect for those who wish to have more targeted control over their relationship with the IoT. However, there are also tons of preset applets from IFTTT’s collections that are widely beneficial, as well.

Here are three recommendations for small bloggers using IFTTT:

  1. Use Google Calendar to keep track of your Buffer posting schedule
  2. When you create a new Trello card, add an event to Google Calendar
  3. Archive every time you’re @mentioned on Twitter to a Google spreadsheet

Whether you’re a content contributor, small blogger or community manager — these tools will help you take your content to the next level.

Which tool is your favorite? Let me know in the comments section below.

What Marketers Are Buying in 2017

If you’re looking at what investments to make this year, or trying to convince your colleagues to put the company’s money where your mouth is, take a look at the chart below to find out where other marketers are putting theirs.

Along side the media usage survey we released in the January/February issue of Target Marketing, NAPCO Media Research head Nathan Safran recently surveyed marketers on one very simple question: Which technologies, solutions and services will your company be investing in for 2017?

The answers weren’t necessarily surprising, but they do give a simple, yes/no indication for where marketers are putting their money.

First of all, a majority of responses said they plan to buy tech for email and social media marketing. So over 50 percent of marketers surveyed still feel a need to make investments to unlock the full potential of those channels.

Not far behind those, in the 40 to 50 percent range, marketers are investing in content marketing, video marketing, Web analytics and direct mail solutions.

We’re also seeing a lot of respondents who plan to invest in the bedrock marketing tools of CRM. Marketing automation, databases and mobile tech.

So, if you’re looking at what investments to make this year, or trying to convince your colleagues to put the company’s money where your mouth is, take a look at the chart below to find out where other marketers are putting theirs.

TM Plan to Buy Chart

Top 10 Ways to Improve YouTube Video Search Ranking

YouTube recently announced reaching a new milestone of 1 billion unique monthly visitors, or 15 percent of the planet. Those kinds of numbers are why you want your videos to be found organically on YouTube. Today, we turn the subject to inbound video direct marketing and how to attract traffic to your videos on YouTube. You’ll learn about 10 tools

YouTube recently announced reaching a new milestone of 1 billion unique monthly visitors, or 15 percent of the planet. Those kinds of numbers are why you want your videos to be found organically on YouTube. Today, we turn the subject to inbound video direct marketing and how to attract traffic to your videos on YouTube. You’ll learn about 10 tools that can lead to clicks to your landing page and the opportunity for you to convert that video viewer into a paying customer. Using these tools, you can:

  • Drive traffic to your website or landing page
  • Build your mailing list
  • And sell your products or services

(If the video isn’t just above this line, click here to view it.)

There are several factors that will influence how your video will rank on YouTube, or if it will make the “related videos” or “recommended videos” list. Today’s video suggests ten of those factors, such as:

  • How speech-to-text conversion technology means you need to use your keywords in your voice-over script
  • The importance of including your transcript for closed captioning (with broader implications of improving your search ranking)
  • Loading your description with long-form direct marketing copy
  • Encouraging social signals, and more

Today’s list is just the beginning, and in our next blog, we’ll dive even deeper into some of the often overlooked tactics that can help your video rank higher on YouTube.

If you’ve identified tools and techniques that have helped your videos rise to the top in YouTube rankings, please share them below so other direct marketers can learn what’s worked for you.