Digital Marketing Today is More About Science, Less About Magic

We’ve seen so many changes take place as a result of the digital revolution. Think beyond “mobile” and “social.” I’m talking about an even greater change. A change that has made it easier for some of us to do our jobs and harder for others. I’m talking about the rise of data and its role in marketing and how various tools today can help marketers be successful with little to no creativity.

This past September, I had the pleasure of attending #INBOUND15 in Boston. It was a radical conference – so many great like-minded marketers, awesome entertainment and food, and wonderful breakout sessions and speakers. During the keynote, co-founder and CEO of Hubspot Brian Halligan spoke about the importance of software and tools today. At one point, he said this:

“Today, marketing is more about science and less about magic.”

I wrote it down. Along with another 50 pages of notes throughout the four days there.

It wasn’t until recently when I did a download of my takeaways that I revisited the quote. I let it digest and gave it a lot of thought. And finally I started to figure it what it meant (to me, at least). Come to find out, it really resonated because it was a similar theme that I’ve been preaching for a while. I just never worded it that way.

 

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Right and Left Brains

My interpretation is that there are two types of marketers. Those that are right-brained and creative and those that are left-brained and not. Because of the importance of data/technical-ness in our daily lives today, it’s becoming more and more common for left-brained folks to serve a real purpose. Of course, having teams made up of both is essential – but this concept of science trumping art (aka magic) is surely something to think about.

Now I certainly don’t intend to undermine the importance of creativity. Today, perhaps more than ever, requires great creative (copy, writing, graphics, video) to actually be noticed. On TV, through streaming ads, in social media – everywhere. The very foundation of marketing was built on that that is interesting, captivating and engaging. And that will not change.

But there’s a critical place for all of you who are not so savvy. The folks who draw stick figures or have trouble writing. There’s a place for you because so much of what we do today is drawn from the ability to work with, navigate and excel at very important software that help us get the job done on a daily basis. A place because numbers and analytics are the battery that helps the marketing clock keep ticking. Because everything we do today requires measurement. It’s what allows us to track ROI and deem a project successful or unsuccessful. And the tools available to us today allow us to track at a microscopic level. It’s no longer guesswork like it was in the 60s. We can prove the true value to our work.

Important Tools Today

It was hilarious, a few weeks ago, when Google Drive crapped the bed and was down all afternoon. Twitter was buzzing with complaints and my office was refreshing Google’s support page every 5 minutes. We, as marketers, cannot work without three things: WiFi, our devices, and our software. Too much of what we do every day relies on it. And when we lose that connection, we are a waste of air. And it’s because so much of our day is consumed by powerful software that we use to get the job done. I betcha you use some these:

Reporting:

  • Raven Tools
  • KISSMetrics
  • Google Analytics

Marketing Automation:

  • HubSpot
  • Marketo
  • SharpSpring

SEO Services:

  • SEMRush
  • Raven Tools
  • Majestic SEO

Public Relations:

  • CisionPoint
  • Vocus
  • Meltwater

Social Media Management:

  • SproutSocial
  • Falcon
  • Hootsuite

The list goes on and on. It’s so important to have members on our team who are great at thoroughly using software to uncover and interpret data, manage projects, and strategically make wise decisions. That’s why young marketers (or those looking to come over from other fields) should understand this:

Creativity is not the end-all-be-all of marketing. If you are a left-brained, less creative person, you can find ways to excel in the field by using the many various tools at your disposal. Take advantage of technical traits, and you can find ways to be extremely successful.

I actually feel I sit more on the right hand side of the spectrum. So all of this came to me not because I thought I was technically-savvy, but because I thought it would be helpful to try and improve those types of skills. Alas, I did some research and found some help. Below, find 5 certifications that I believe to be less on the creative side, and more on the analytical side that can help individuals looking to become better at left-brained marketing.

Codeacademy: HTML and CSS

Code has been always Greek to me. I always felt intimidated in front of it. But as a content marketer and SEO professional, I found myself often times being faced with it. Now I wasn’t expecting to build full blown websites, but the opportunity certainly came up where I need to make tweaks, override CSS for styling, or identify errors so my development team could have a better understanding of what was going on. The basics are taught on codeacademy through an excellent hands-on approach that so many have completed to date to help improve this technical trade. I’m a fan.

Hootsuite Social Media Management

Social media is still that bad boy from high school that everyone thinks is cool but no one respects. But it’s slowly coming around as more and more brands find value (in terms of real, legitimate leads and sales) through these channels. Conducting effective social media require a whole lot of creativity – from the content that is prepared and distributed to the ads that are built to drive awareness, push content further or grows followers. But think about timing, measurement and monitoring. There’s definitely a place for technical minds to help with social media. Give them a thorough understanding of social media so they can assist with the efforts. Take advantage of Hootsuite’s offering.

Hubspot Inbound Certification

Inbound certainly requires great creativity – especially when it comes to the content creation portion, the landing page designs, or the clever email copy. But beyond that is building a system of workflows, triggers and emails that make sense to help nurture leads over time. It requires looking closely at data to figure out the best time to reach out to leads and make contact. And do not overlook A/B testing, heatmaps and more. It’s a must to create a plan that can take those quality pieces of content and get the most out it. These technical skills can be improved through HubSpot’s certification. (And even more through its partner program).

The Google Suite

If you aren’t familiar with Google software, it’s hard to be successful in marketing today. From Webmaster Tools to Analytics to AdWords to Tag Manager to Drive to Hangouts, it’s practically impossible to go an entire day without running into a component of the Google suite. Consider certifications from the tech giant to become better at using AdWords, Tag Manager and Analytics and understand both basic and advanced technical functions to get the most use out of these tools. It will likely allow you to not only do a better job on your next SEO, advertising or marketing project, but you’ll probably be able to work faster by knowing shortcuts and the right features to get the job done.

Project Management Institute

Projects today are very complex. If you’re a believer in an integrated approach, you’ll start with a strategy, have multiple players involved, set benchmarks, assign tasks, budget costs and hours, and more. Great project management skills require organization and focus. It’s not for the faint of heart, or a loosy-goose mind. Take advantage of the skills that can be attained through this certification and manage projects better, from start to finish. It’s not “technical” per se, but it certainly requires much more of a focused, rigid mindset than that of a creative set of skills.

Wrap Up

More of a left-brained individual? Don Draper had no room for you in 1964. If you couldn’t draw or write copy, you were wasting his time.

Now, our teams are more diverse. Marketing encompasses more duties and responsibilities. And the skills required for this field are dense. Analytics, measurement, data, and using powerful software to its fullest potential and abilities can make a regular ‘ol marketer a certified genius. If you’re a numbers guy/girl, development guy/girl, and an overly tech-savvy guy/girl, you can probably find a suitable niche.

Listen, I’m one of the biggest advocates on the face of the earth for great creative. And more importantly, I appreciate good artists and I despise those who try to be something they are not (the “I know my way around Photoshop a little bit” type artists). Good content writing. Good visuals. Good copywriting. It’s all an integral part of successful marketing and developing a powerful brand – especially online. But it’s still a piece. And there are other shoes that need to be filled. Measurement is a must. And those analytical, technical minds are so important.

We need you.

This post was originally featured in SEMrush.com. To view the original article, please click here.

What Mario Kart Taught Me About Business

I’m not much of a gamer anymore. I used to be. Then again, weren’t we all in the 90s? Nintendo was pretty much our generation’s iPhone. Mostly everyone had one. And those who didn’t have one, wanted one. It was fresh, cool and continually being modified with newer versions and games that were better than the last. I fell in love with Super NES in 1994 when my brother and I got it as a Christmas gift. And on it, we loved playing one of the greatest party games of all time: Mario Kart.

 

 

Parents used to always rag on video games back then. Remember? They advised us that we should go outside and throw the ball around instead of sitting on the couch playing video games. “It will rot your brains,” they preached. “Those games don’t teach you anything.”

But now as an adult, I find myself constantly feeling nostalgic, thinking about those great games and if what our parents said was actually true. And then I started to realize something.

Mario Kart was a great parallel to the business world.

It didn’t rot my brain. No sir, Mario Kart taught me everything I know about life! Okay, maybe that’s a stretch, but there’s certainly something to be said about the game and the lessons it lends to today’s business world, especially those looking to excel in marketing. Here’s three key reasons why I find Mario Kart to be the perfect metaphor to succeeding in today’s workplace.

Every Employee Has Different Skills

You turn on the game, and before you can even start thinking about all the fun you are about you have, you have to make a decision. In the worry-free 1990s, this was probably the most important decision you were going to make all month. Which character are you going to be?

I love how Nintendo made each character distinct. Not only in who they are, but in the strengths they possessed. Mario was well-balanced, for example. He didn’t have any stats that were off-the-chart, but was a great well-rounded driver. You could count on him to do a good job on all courses. Toad was light and had excellent handling abilities but his size and stature didn’t fair well when getting bumped by the big boys. Speaking of which, Bowser’s size and weight made him have slow acceleration speed but top off at the highest speed once he got going.

In the workplace, we all have unique strengths. At my company, upon hire, our president makes us each take the StrengthsFinder test as well as a personality test. By doing so, the group can quickly get a feel for a new member’s work style and what he/she might be great at. There’s a total of 33 strengths in this particular study. Some include:

  • Achiever
  • Belief
  • Competition
  • Developer
  • Discipline
  • Empathy
  • Focus
  • Futuristic
  • Positivity
  • Strategic

What I love about the book (that supports the test) is that it instructs readers to not focus on trying to compensate for weaknesses, but rather take time to understand and accentuate strengths. Just like Mario Kart, different employees, based on their strengths, might be better suited for certain projects, tasks, clients, etc. Maximizers are wonderful at working through the details, woo (winning others over) are great in client facing roles or in sales, etc.

It’s also helpful to take a look at personality types. Using the Jung and Briggs Myers model, learn which of the 16 personality types you fall in. By carefully understanding your personality, you can do a better job at adjusting your work style to find greater productivity and efficiency and settle into roles where you will succeed.

In Mario Kart, you have to know what you are good at to compete at the highest level. Understanding each team member’s strengths in your company can help you do a better job at aligning the proper resources to each project, while seeing far greater quality in work. Manage by strength, not by name or title.

All Markets Are Different

I bet running a small business was easy in the 1880s. You opened your business, maybe put an ad in the local newspaper, and dealt with all those great, loyal customers walking through the door. Life was good.

Today, it’s much more complicated. The web and mobile make geographical reach virtually non-existent. Remote staff and sales teams allow us to hire anyone, anywhere. The ability to reach all sorts of customers let even the most niche product or service have the potential for success beyond any sort of borders.

And at that same time, competition is fiercer than ever because anyone can start a business, raise funds, operate a staff, and sell a product. You see how much some of these GoFundMe pages have raised? It’s more important now, more than ever, to fully understand your market and target audience.

One of the coolest things about Mario Kart is the different courses that you encountered. Each was unique with different themes, roads, and enemies. It took weeks or even months of playing before you could master them all and know the special nuances of each. But let’s not mention Rainbow Road.

Tying back to real life, your market is the course. Each with a different landscape and makeup.

You may not have a bird’s eye view of your market like Mario, but you can research and pull from past experiences. As long as you have the time, talent and resources, you have access to data and information that can help you understand your market and audience and better lay out your business plans.

Explore blog posts, case studies and online statistics, and lean on research to build out buyer personas to see what your target audience is like – from both a demographic and psychographic perspective. Read into the cultural makeup of the areas that you are selling in to see if there are any correlations with buying habits.

Some activities to gather this information could include:

  • Google Consumer Surveys
  • Email Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Google Analytics and Social Media Demographic Data
  • User-Testing
  • Customer and Company Interviews
  • Focus Groups
  • Secondary Research
  • Negative Persona Development

The information gathered should be complete and help establish a comprehensive understanding of the audience. Some things you’ll definitely want to gather include:

  • Location
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Interests
  • Education
  • Income
  • Company
  • Title
  • Family
  • Language
  • Favorite Website
  • Favorite Apps
  • Preferred Device
  • Buying Motivations
  • Buying Concerns

There are resources out there, you just need to find them. Do so before you create any action plans so you can tailor the product, service, brand, and messaging for the audience within that market. And make sure to keep a close eye on your competitors too. You wouldn’t want Donkey Kong sneaking up on you and blasting you with a triple red shell now, would you?

Different Tactics Work At Different Times

When the race began, you had one goal. Get a weapon as soon as possible.

The genius behind Nintendo is their creativity with things like this. Each weapon offered a different advantage, and some even could come back to haunt you. The green shells were sent flying to try and knock off a leading racer. Red shells were similar but tracked the competitor for increased accuracy. And the blue shell chased the race leader! Banana peals were dropped behind you and hopefully forced your nearest enemy to slip and wipe out. And of course you also had mushroom boosts and the beloved star power.

In the business world, and most especially in marketing, we have an incredibly wide breadth of tactics at our disposal to try and reach our goals and/or improve our bottom line.

I came up with a list of 99 marketing tactics one day just to try and see how many were available to me while I was working on a new marketing plan. The fact is: we have a ton of options. Here’s just a few:

  • Affinity programs
  • Blogger outreach
  • Contests
  • Employee videos
  • Lead nurturing
  • Loyalty programs
  • Mobile apps
  • Podcasting
  • Social Media
  • Remarketing
  • Webinars
  • Websites

But what works best?

Of course that all depends on the company, the competitive landscape, the industry, budget, the audience and more. Before your new calendar year begins, put together a marketing plan that will map out everything you are looking to accomplish this year and why.

And before you start making the decisions on what to include, begin with research. Not all tactics are created equal and some companies see greater success than others, depending on how well they’ve crafted their plan.

In Mario Kart, some items work better than others. That depends on the course, the player, your current positioning, and the enemies in front or behind you.

In the game, it was a toss up what weapon you’d receive each time. And you were left dealing with the hand you were deal. Fortunately, in the business/marketing world, it’s not random. You have the power to choose whatever tactics you want.

Do the research, understand the market, lay out a strategy, and select the tactics that work best for you to help your company reach your goals. Choose wisely and work towards earning the most profound ROI around your work.

So, there ya go. See, Mario Kart really did teach us kids something. Happy personality test-taking, buyer persona-creating, marketing plan-building, and of course, Mario Kart playing. Have fun! And good luck!

This article originally appeared on Steamfeed.com. To view the full article, please visit: http://www.steamfeed.com/what-mario-kart-taught-me-about-business/

Which Digital Advertising Program is Right for Me?

Which digital advertising program is right for me- (3)

The advent of the Internet has opened up so many digital doors to marketers today. And at the same time, many of these opportunities are available to small business owners at affordable rates. From big sites like Amazon to your local newspaper’s website, you just need to know what’s available and what you’re doing.

I’ll admit it. It can be a little intimidating to read the many blog posts out there on online advertising, leading you to become quickly overwhelmed. So I’m here to help you figure out which advertising platforms might work best for you based on your specific situation.

You goal and target audience, working in unison, will be the driving force behind the decisions you make in the advertising world. The platform. The filters. The spend. The design. The ad copy. Everything. So let’s tackle things this way. I’ll suggest a goal and then present you with the potential solution that may fit your needs.

First, let’s look at your options. When we talk about digital or online advertising, there are so many today. Some have their own platforms where you would create an account, sets up payment details and manages ads within. For others, you may use a third party tool or work through an ad representative. Though there are hundreds (if not hundreds of thousands if you count individual websites) of different advertising opportunities, here are the main options that most marketers might suggest today:

  • Google Adwords
  • Yahoo/Bing Ads
  • YouTube Ads
  • Amazon Ads
  • Mobile App Ads
  • Social Media Ads
  • Game Platform and In-Game Mobile Ads
  • Remarketing Ads
  • Audio Streaming Ads
  • Video Streaming Ads
  • Email Content Ads/Gmail Ads
  • Website Banners
  • Native Advertising/Sponsored Content

Now let’s look at instances where some of the above might come into play…

Goal: I have a B2B product or service and a very niche clientele. I want to drive them to my website so they can learn more and hopefully convert. A conversion to me would be a phone call, an email link click, or a request for more information through a form.

You Might Want to Consider: Google AdWords, Yahoo/Bing Ads

AdWords AdsI recommend Google AdWords to most clients, only because so many audiences use Google, it is extremely flexible, has any type of budget options, and you can be as niche as you want. For B2B companies, this is often the best place to start. Because when seeking a vendor, product or service, the first phase of research almost always starts with a Google search. AdWords is a great way to beat the organic results to the punch and appear higher and with more options (call extension, site links, ratings, etc).

Consider different dynamics to make sure you are reaching that specific audience like time of day, desktop vs mobile, location, and search vs display. Although it takes some set-up, once you’ve found your footing and have identified the best keywords for an ideal budget, AdWords can be a nice way to consistently bring in qualified visitors, unaffected by the other marketing activities taking place within your mix.

Goal: I’m looking to target young teens. And want to raise awareness for my product. It’s a relatively new product so I just want to introduce it to them right now. They likely can’t buy it themselves but having them know it (and eventually recognize it), will lead to having a parent purchase later on.

You Might Want to Consider: Audio Ads, YouTube Ads, In-Game Ads

14908Today’s teens (the plural generation) use the Internet very differently than others. Even different than their older siblings who are often Milliennials (which there is tons of research out there on!). These youngsters are addicted to their smartphones and tablets (88% have them), do not use email or Facebook, and are very comfortable with any and all new technology that comes out. SnapChat and Instagram are king and some of the most popular activities include music streaming and gaming. Because of this, you might want to consider audio ads on platforms like Spotify or Pandora. Make sure you target by location or music genres to get in front of the right teen listeners. Consider today’s popular musicians.

Also, don’t pass on YouTube ads, with placement before today’s popular music tracks. It might be disruptive to the listener but, over time, the brand/product becomes recognizable. And don’t forget about platforms like Xbox, PS4 and games on mobile devices. Each of these offer advertising options to have ads play during breaks or right within the games themselves. Gaming is the single most popular activity for teens, shared by both males and females. And gaming ads is very hot right now. In fact, last year, Zynga (FarmVille, Words with Friends, Draw Something) generated more than $153 million in revenue!

Goal: You are a local business owner. You’ve had it with TV and radio ads, they just aren’t working for you and they are expensive. You want to remind your local consumers who you are, what you do, and get them to come in for a visit to eventually drive in-store sales.

You Might Want to Consider: Local Mobile App Ads

Mobile AdsOf all time spent on a mobile devices, 89% of it is spent in a mobile app (the remaining 11% is on the mobile web). This has continued to increase each year. First, you need to identify your audience and understand what type of apps they use. Bleacher Report? Hulu Plus? Yelp? Knowing the most popular apps among your target audience is a great starting point. By using a major ad platform like InMobi or AdMob, you can set-ups ads, select your targeting features (age, demographics, location, apps) and manage ads from one interface. These can be run similar to Google AdWords and are based on a pay-per-click (PPC) model.

Don’t forgot about local apps or apps that offer reviews like Yelp or UrbanSpoon (depending on your industry). These focus strongly on local web searches and can be a great avenue to get in front of people that are just about ready to pull the trigger on a purchase. Mobile apps are used by a lot of people, so without filtering the right audience, you will end up spending a lot of time and money with no results. Target like crazy.

Goal: You only care about one thing: leads. You get a substantial amount of people to your website but feel that your return-visitor numbers are low. You are a B2B company but the buying cycle is relatively short, they often purchase on the second visit. You need to get them to come back and move beyond the research phase to the consideration phase, and help get them to pull the trigger.

You Might Want to Consider: Remarketing Ads

bruno-img-nlHave you ever shopped for a product on Amazon. Then, like two days later, you saw the same product being featured in an ad on Facebook? Remarketing uses cookies to track you and recalls different web pages that you’ve visited in the past. By doing so, advertisers can serve up extremely targeted ads to you. By using remarketing for your website, you can catch the attention of people who have already visited your site.

Use a platform like Google AdWords, AdRoll or Multiview and manage your ads for an audience that’s already beyond the awareness phase and in the midst of decision-making. Be strategic with your visuals and ad copy and consider an offer or key selling point to drive them back to your site for a purchase. Remarketing generally sees high click thru rates at an affordable cost, since you are only advertising to folks who already know who you are. You can even track on a page-by-page level so your ads can be specific to the products/services they are genuinely interested in.

Goal: I blog for my company and want my content to be viewed by more qualified people. I put a lot of time into writing and the purpose is to help with my SEO efforts, appear in more search results, and generate more traffic. I’m consistent but I’m not seeing the results I want. I want more views.

You Might Want to Consider: Social Media Ads, Sponsored Content, Email Content Ads

facebook-ad-tests

Let me guess. You blog like crazy. Pour hours of blood, sweat and tears into your posts. You then check your Google Analytics and your post gets viewed by like 25 people. Been there, done that. It can be very hard to develop a strong blog following. Of course, great content, published on a consistent basis is the first step. And don’t forget about working it into other marketing activities like email marketing or lead nurturing. But sometimes you can use a little advertising to give you an extra boost. Set-up social media ads to promote the posts that feature your blog content. Make sure you apply the right filters so you are getting those posts in front of the right people (consider influencer lists!). Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter can all be used to target qualified people –  consider industry, group, professional status, age, geography, etc.

Secondly, think of trade publications that your target audience reads often. Ask if they have sponsored content opportunities. Supply them with your blog post and for a fee they will run it on their site, getting much more shares and views and engagements than it would on your own company website. Or, see if you can agree to a deal where they feature your blog post in their next email campaign. It will lead to more views by the right people.

The Blunt and Brutal Honest Truth About SEO

There is no other marketing effort more complex or changing at a faster rate than search engine optimization (SEO). It takes a great deal of time to just keep up with the trends. Something you learned six months ago can be outdated today. And it’s unique in that you no longer really perform SEO on its own – it’s grown to live in unison with all other digital marketing practices. I’ve only been [directly] involved in SEO for a few years, but boy has there been a lot of changes in that time related to best practices and effective tactis. So I wanted to clear up a few things and also highlight what my biggest takeaways have been since my first encounter with SEO.

SEO Is Not Dead

Young digital marketers are usually passionate advocates for SEO. But old-school thinkers are the first to wave the white flag.

How many times have you been to Google today? It’s 8 am at the time of this writing and I’ve already logged about 10 searches. Guaranteed, by the end of the day, I’ll be looking at close to 100 between desktop and mobile. Not to mention all the other ways I’ve navigated around the internet today.

We rely so heavily on search engines, and the results they feature, that I don’t know what we would do without them. The top results [usually] serve our needs. And that’s because the algorithms have been refined to feature the best and most accurate answers. So becoming one of those top answers is naturally an important goal for any business, since it will lead to high levels of high quality traffic.

Plus, SEO today is much more than just organic visitors. Consider searches from retail sites like Amazon, referral traffic, direct traffic, conversions outside of your website like on local listing pages, Twitter links, news feed links, site links and more. I’ve been around the world and back again before I even finished my morning coffee – because it’s just so easy to get around online. How can SEO be dead? SEO is helping affect everything I just mentioned.

As long as the search engines continue to serve a purpose and as long as there are things we, as marketers, can do to bring qualified visitors into our site, SEO will prevail as an important piece in the digital marketing puzzle. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t changing.

SEO Is A Long-Term Strategy

It didn’t used to be this way. Couple tweaks here, some link purchases over here, throw up some meta data. Voila! We got that number one spot, like Ludacris.

Okay, now let’s stop thinking about how easy it was to do SEO in 2004. (And let’s stop referencing songs from that year too).

It’s 2015 and Google has smartened up. Can you blame them? There was a lot of shady stuff going on for a long time and it greatly affected who was appearing on page 1. From the user’s perspective, you expect to find the best and most accurate results. So that’s what Google has been/is always trying to do. Think about Google Updates/Penalties as a way of helping us all, not hurting SEOs.

Poor links? Bad. Thin content? Bad. Comment spam? Bad. So what are you gonna do about it?

As a result of the many updates over the years, we’ve now arrived at a point where SEO is not easy. Actually, it’s pretty friggin’ hard and time consuming. And with that, it takes time to see results. Do the right thing on your site and make your site worthwhile to the audience. Focus on better/longer/more relevant content, site speed, mobile friendliness, social activity, rich snippets, security, etc. There a thousand factors in Google’s algorithms and many things you can do to help improve your online properties.

I did a tremendous amount of SEO work for a client two years ago and I’m just now seeing the fruits of all that labor. The timeline will range depending on the type of SEO work, the competition, the industry, and the company, but keep in mind that the days of quick fixes and short term results are gone. Do good work and you’ll eventually see results. Just be patient.

Conversions > Traffic

Let’s say your company sells t-shirts to young girls. What value is there in bringing 1,000 visitors to your site made up of 55+ men? The answer is: no value. They aren’t buying anything, and they probably aren’t there for the right reasons (yikes!). Your efforts are unsuccessful and the visitors arriving aren’t helping drive sales.

Thankfully, many of us are [finally] getting past the idea of traffic being the main metric we use to measure online success. And we’re opting to instead look at conversions. But the first step is to identify the conversions that mean most to your business.

Set-up goals and events in Google Analytics (and Tag Manager), or your preferred measurement software, and monitor them constantly. Goals can be sales through an e-commerce store, form completions, downloads, video views, pricing pageviews, and more. Anything that you deem as a value metric (just because you don’t have an online store, doesn’t mean you can’t measure ROI). Then monitor. These converters are the people who are qualified on your website.

Traffic means nothing. Stop leading your reports with it! Conversions will always be more valuable to you than any other metric. Plus, it allows SEO professionals to more accurately justify their work, by basing their progress around conversion-type metrics. Assign dollar values to your conversions and that’s where true ROI becomes evident. We, as marketers, need to do a better job at fighting the good fight against crappy metrics. Start today. Set up those goals and events.

SEO Is Only One Ingredient

I’ve worked with clients that give SEO too much attention (resulting in too little attention elsewhere) and also ones that don’t believe it in altogether. The happy medium is to first understand that SEO is one piece in the marketing mix, and a component of other marketing work. Content writing and content marketing, social media, website development – all of these tasks/projects are seamlessly integrated with SEO. And keeping SEO in mind with all of these can help you perform better.

You can’t make a cake with just flour. Similarly, you can’t expect to see online success with just SEO. If you don’t have the time and the resources to add all the other ingredients – content, social, video, photos, improved development, etc – then don’t even bother. It won’t taste any good.

The best approach to marketing is having an integrated strategy and having many different touchpoints to reach your target audience. SEO should not be your only activity. There must be many more items on your plate. Managing them well, and in unison, will have the greatest affect. No matter the audience, however, SEO should play an integral role. SEO is an ongoing activity. It’s not a one-and-done project, or a tactic that you can start and stop at any time. It’s a constant effort. It takes a ton of time. It doesn’t end. So budget accordingly.

Linking Totally Sucks

Quality links still pose as a factor in search engine algorithms to help dictate rankings and drive traffic. Problem is: Google and the search engines have struck down linking practices pretty heavily over the years because of how bad they were being abused (i.e. Google Penguin). Link farms, paid links, comment links, etc. So we also have to wise up.

Making an effort to specifically go out and get links is very hard. It can be done, but it must be very specific and strategic, getting only quality links placed on sites that you trust. My opinion today is to not focus on linking at all. Let the links come naturally. And there are a number of ways to do that.

  • Blog. A lot. Make them high quality posts and share them on social and through email campaigns.
  • Conduct PR work to garner earned media pieces that feature links back to your site.
  • Host internships and scholarships at your company where descriptions and write-ups will be posted by your local colleges, allowing you to get .edu links.
  • Participate in tradeshows or sponsor different events and submit company bios to the event websites.
  • Conduct cause marketing, like volunteering or donations, and let links come naturally from those non-profit .org sites.
  • Finally, work with your vendors and partners to be featured on their sites or blogs.

If you do ethical work, create unique quality content, and have ongoing outreach, your backlink profile will grow. It’s just the natural effect. Take that Google!

You Can Do It Yourself!

I’ve yet to see a master’s degree available in search engine optimization. That’s because it doesn’t exist. That means that all of us – from the most experienced professional down to the recent college grad – is at a [somewhat] even playing field. We are learning as we go. On the fly. From research, reading blogs, testing, trial and error. There isn’t any piece of paper that proves we know this stuff. It’s just based on our own learnings. And that means that you can get caught up to speed. For free.

Read blogs like Steamfeed (sorry, had to), Moz, SearchEngineWatch, SearchEngineJournal and SearchEngineLand to get the daily scoop on the latest trends. Test out software like SEMRush, Raven Tools, BrightLocal and others to learn more about the art of SEO/website analysis and how to access and utilize data. Then, go to work.

It takes time to get familiar with the lingo and the technical aspects of SEO, but it’s certainly learnable over time. No one has formal education in this stuff. We’re all self-proclaimed experts. So put in the time and the work and you can get the job done yourself. And if you do not have the skills or time to pull it off, that’s where agencies and freelancers come in.

SEO still has a lot of life left in it. Though rapidly changing every day, it’s important to exercise SEO efforts in all of our digital marketing activities to help drive the right people to our sites and lead them down the sales funnels. As long as the web serves a purpose, SEO will prevail. Take these tips into consideration and prep your site properly for long-term success!

This post was originally written for and published on Steamfeed.com. To view the original article, please click here.

Here’s What “Quality Content” Actually Means

Online content comes in many forms. But four times out of five, at least for most startup owners, the most popular type comes in the form of blog posts. Why’s that? Because static pages rarely change and more advanced forms of content (like case studies, infographics or videos) take time and resources that entrepreneurs rarely have.

Great content should be generated often. It’s one of the best inbound marketing techniques business owners can do to drive people to their sites.

Wait.

Stop me.

You’ve heard this one before.

Of course you have. We all have. It’s all marketers have been talking about for the past three years. “Content is king.” “Get blogging.” “Make sure it’s high quality.” “Do it.” “Do it now!”

This quote graphic was floating around the web last year. Ever see it?

Source: Simon Kemp (@eskimon)

 

Now, I don’t disagree with the concept of quality trumping quantity, or quality content being one of the most significant factors in driving new, qualified visitors to your site. It makes perfect sense from a marketing perspective. Because no one wants to be talked at. They want to be talked with. And they want to learn.

Blog content is a great way to introduce products and services to a potential customer base, but with a much softer sell. And it gets people talking about you and your brand. It’s so important for startups to be engaging in content marketing and blogging because the brand recognition just isn’t there yet.

But where I have a problem is making a recommendation around the creation of high quality content without giving writers (many times, the business owners and their teams) an indication as to how to arrive there. Because to be frank, it’s easier said than done. So I’m going to give you the low down…

Yes, you should be blogging. Yes, it should be high quality. And here’s what quality actually means.

Keywords

When writing blog posts online, it’s important that you take search engine optimization (SEO) into considering. SEO is the practice of improving a website (or web page) to help grow traffic levels, both in terms of quantity and quality. This includes a number of different efforts, both on-page and off-page. Generating new, relevant, rich content is one of the most important factors. Always begin with keyword research. Each post should try to focus on a few different keywords that are important to your business. I usually target two to three per post. Use some tools to help determine these – weigh in relevance, traffic volumes, competition and more. Once you’ve decided on the words you’d like to target, you can then begin to flush out your post. Take time to write a catchy post title too, which incorporates a keyword.

Length

I’ve seen marketers make recommendations around content length. “The longer, the better,” some say. Kevan Lee, one of my favorite bloggers who writes over at Buffer, noted that the ideal length for a blog post is 1,600 words. I won’t disagree that long posts fair better in search, but you need to understand why. Long post feature more information. There’s stats, evidence, research. It’s more resourceful. Google wants to be an answer engine. It wants to help its users solve problems. Don’t keep checking the word count or write lengthy just for the sake of writing lengthy. Focus on helping out your readers. If you do that, it will be the perfect length. (In case you’re wondering how long a 1,600 word post is, the post you’re reading now is about 1,500 words.)

Readability

Write for the reader instead of the search engines. Writing should be natural and free flowing. SEO has changed dramatically compared to that of 10 years ago. The search engines are smarter. Try not to be overly focused on working in those keywords. It’s better to leave a keyword out of a sentence than to have the content sound odd or awkward. One technique is to write the content freely first and then go back and try to work the keywords in where they fit best. This approach allows you to focus more on readability than on keyword integration. Also, use headlines (usually H2s) and bulleted lists when possible. This makes posts easier to read and breaks the content down into smaller, more manageable pieces. Consider numbered posts, like “Top 5 Ways,” or “The Best 10 Products,” etc. Those are often well received.

Multimedia

Incorporate multiple pictures into every post. Images give visual verification to visitors (I love alliteration!) that they are indeed looking at the content they want. Consider graphs, charts, photos of people, stock photos, memes, screenshots, call-outs, quote images, etc. All of these things will visually enhance your piece. If using pictures, be sure you attribute the source or photographer (if necessary) and include appropriate alt tags based on the image and possibly the keywords for that page. If you have a smartphone or camera, try to take your own photos. And don’t forget about other media too which can also enhance your piece. Consider embedded podcasts or radio shows as well as videos or animated gifs!

Meta Data

Meta data consists of the title tag and description. You should have appropriate meta data for each blog post that you publish. Write and upload these with the keywords in mind that you’ve selected. Titles should be no longer than 60 characters and descriptions no more than 160 characters. Any more than this and it’s likely your words will get cut off in the search engines. Write naturally without any added punctuations like pipes or dashes, and avoid keyword stuffing. Use a plugin like SEO Yoast (if your blog/website is in WordPress) to add these with ease. Don’t forget to override the URL slug if you want to incorporate a keyword there too.

And don’t forget about other SEO stuff…

  • It’s important that your site is technically sound so Google respects you and each new post. Be sure that there is no duplicate content on any of your pages. When writing, make sure you do not copy and paste content from other pages to your new blog post (you’d be surprised how prevalent this is). Write unique content. If you have similar language somewhere else, try to paraphrase and use different language. If you are required to have similar or even the same content on two or more pages, use canonical tags to let Google know.
  • Try to write like an educator rather than a marketer. With Google’s Hummingbird update, they are looking for information-rich content that will help answer questions and fulfill the needs of web users. Try to ensure that the content answers a question(s) that the reader might have. It wouldn’t even hurt to explicitly state that question within the post. Write conversationally. By writing with a tone that reads less bias and more informational, it will have a stronger impact in search and be better received among your target audience.
  • Be sure to exercise linking within your content – both internal and external. If you are referencing material that is found on a different page of your site, hyperlink the reference to that page using internal linking structure. Likewise, if you have cited material or can send users to a trusted third party resource for more information, be sure to add a link. Don’t forget to go into old posts on your website and add links to the new posts you are creating. Be cautious of too many links and/or including links to untrustworthy sites. Both can negatively impact your efforts.

If you prepare great content on your site, finally, you’ll want to market those articles well with sharing techniques. Share on your social media channels. Utilize in your lead nurturing programs or email marketing campaigns. Advertise them. Publish as long-form posts on LinkedIn or share within your LinkedIn Groups and Google+ Communities. Ask partners, vendors or friends to share on their social media channels or to link to the post from their online content. And consider featuring the post on a guest blog or in a relevant trade publication (just make sure you use canonical tags so the search engines do not see these as duplicate pieces).

If you prepare quality content, you will reap the rewards over time. These benefits can come in a variety of ways. Here are just a few:

  • Develop a voice and brand personality
  • Increase awareness for your brand, its products and services
  • Generate new links and referral traffic
  • Gain respect by the search engines and be rewarded by boosts in rankings
  • See growth in organic traffic
  • Give past visitors a reason to come back
  • Give yourself custom content to share on your social media sites

Quality content takes time to prepare. Just from experience, I’ve found that, when taking the above points into consideration, a blog post usually takes 3 to 4x longer than a normal, “blah” piece. Budget your time accordingly. It will be well worth the extra effort.

This post was originally published in Steamfeed. To view the original article, please click here.