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  1. 7 Strategy Changes for the Now-Adept Search Marketer

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    Nobody enters the SEO world as an expert. That expertise is developed over time, after gaining more experience, encountering great successes, and stumbling through terrible failures. It happens to all of us. After going through your first couple of years and learning some of the finer points of SEO, those simply introductory strategies aren’t going to cut it any longer. If you want to continue seeing results, and expand your online visibility even further, you’ll have to undergo a number of more advanced strategic changes to support that path.

    When you feel you’re ready to move from the status of “beginner” to “adept” at SEO, consider employing these seven strategy changes:

    1. Spend more time on site speed.

    articleimage1378 Spend more time on site speed

    Site speed isn’t that important to your search rankings—at least not compared to the most important factors, like onsite content, navigation, and external authoritative relationships. But now that you’re an adept search marketer, we can safely assume you have all those fundamentals under control. Because that’s the case, you can spend more time on a more complex issue (like site speed) and work to optimize it both for your search rankings and for your users, who might grow frustrated with your brand if you’re unable to perform optimally. Reduce your image sizes, strip out any meta data, delete old posts, and get familiar with at least one caching plugin to keep your site running fresh.

    2. Optimize niche landing pages.

    articleimage1378 Optimize niche landing pages

    Separate landing pages aren’t really necessary for a new or emerging site. But once you’ve spent a few months (or years) getting to know the brand and establishing a core presence, it’s in your best interest to create one or a handful of pages for segments of your audience. For example, you could create a separate landing page for each of your core products, or for each core section of your target demographics. You can then optimize these pages to show up for certain types of search, or promote them using other means (like offsite guest posts or social media syndication).

    3. Utilize more visual forms of content.

    articleimage1378 Utilize more visual forms of content

    When you’re first starting out, written content is the easiest, cheapest, and most efficient way to start generating attention and building authority for your brand. It’s the fastest to create, the easiest to syndicate, and in bulk it can generate the best results. But once you’ve crossed the threshold of “beginner,” you’ll need to improve your content prowess. Utilize more forms of visual content, like videos and infographics—they may be more expensive and more time consuming, but you need a variety of content types if you want to be successful.

    4. Step up your link building game.

    articleimage1378 Step up your link building game

    Like with content, when you first start out, simpler is not just fine—it’s better. You spend less time, use simpler processes, and build a foundation of authority for your site. But once you become more adept and skilled in SEO, you’ll have to increase your commitment to using high-authority sources. That means you’ll need to spend more time getting your content published on high-authority platforms, and more time attracting links from others naturally rather than posting them yourself. These changes will prevent you from suffering any penalties, and have a better potential to scale over time.

    5. Eliminate duplicate content and adjust your titles.

    It’s tempting to write a bunch of titles and descriptions for your pages and just leave them indefinitely, but once you’re at the adept level, you’ll need to spend time auditing and revising those written entries. Consumer tastes, competitor positions, and Google algorithms all change over time—sometimes frequently—so it’s up to you to occasionally go back and make adjustments to ensure you’re ranking for the right keywords as high as possible. It’s also important to comb through your site, possibly using Google Webmaster Tools, to ensure you have no duplicate content interfering with search engine indexes.

    6. Dig deeper into local SEO.

    Local SEO is relatively simple, but it can be overlooked by beginners looking to establish a foundation for their site. Google uses a separate algorithm for local search results, but with lower competition levels and a higher audience relevance, there’s no reason not to get more involved in the strategy. Start encouraging your customers to leave reviews (without pressuring them to), and make sure all your local citations are clean and in order throughout the web. It’s a time consuming process, but well worth the effort.

    7. Regularly audit the technical performance of your site.

    Last but not least, once a week you should check on the performance of your site using Google Webmaster Tools. Check to see which pages Google is indexing against the pages you have listed in your sitemap, and scan for any crawl errors. Are there any pages not showing up? Are there any 404 errors that need addressed? Most of these issues can be solved with simple solutions, like 301 redirects, but the sooner you catch them, the better.

    This article does make a number of assumptions about the strategies you’ve already been using and ones you’re probably unfamiliar with. It’s entirely likely that you’re already familiar with some of the strategies above, but it’s also likely that you’re missing a handful of key fundamentals. Because of this, I encourage SEOs of all types of experience to occasionally rebuild their expectations from the ground up, revisiting the fundamentals and making sure you aren’t missing any foundational pillars.

  2. The Most Popular Trends for Online Marketers in 2015

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    Marketing trends change fast, and it seems like every year, they change a little bit faster. Every year for the past decade, there have been more social media platforms, more Google algorithm changes, and more consumer technology changes that have influenced SEO, social media marketing, and online marketing in general on a fundamental level.

    Responding to these changes, the authorities at Moz annually release the aggregated results of a survey distributed to thousands of online marketers. The 2015 version of this survey, featuring submissions from more than 3,600 online marketers, was just released, and it holds a number of key insights about the present and future of online marketing.

    The Popularity of Marketing Agencies

    articleimage1364 The Popularity of Marketing Agencies

    In-house marketers and marketers in agencies were both included in the survey, with about a 50 percent composition from each segment of the audience. Agency marketers were asked to list the services they provide for their clients, as a multiple-selection list. In total, the top five they selected were:

    • Search engine optimization (SEO): 94%
    • Search engine marketing (SEM): 83%
    • Social media marketing: 79%
    • Content creation/curation: 75%
    • Web development: 70%

    Keep in mind that these were not exclusively SEO agencies; instead, they were simply “marketing” or “online marketing” agencies in general. Yet, a whopping 94 percent of them are offering SEO services. This speaks to the enormous importance of SEO in the modern era. It’s not a gimmick or a fad or even a trend at this point; it’s a fundamental ingredient in almost any marketing campaign. What is surprising is that content creation and curation, despite being an integral part of SEO and SEM (and social media marketing, from my perspective), was only offered by 75 percent of respondents.

    Tools of the Trade

    articleimage1364 Tools of the Trade

    In-house and agency marketers alike rely on a number of tools to get their jobs done. Without these automated, aggregated, functional systems, the manual processes of online marketing would be overwhelming.

    First, Moz asked respondents about their favorite tools for SEO—these are online or offline services that help search marketers understand, plan, execute, and troubleshoot SEO campaigns. The top five most popular responses are listed below:

    • Google Webmaster Tools: 87%
    • Google Keyword Planner: 79%
    • Open Site Explorer: 62%
    • Moz Pro: 59%
    • Screaming Frog: 51%

    Other popular entries included Yoast, SEMrush, Bing Webmaster Tools, Majestic SEO, and Ahrefs. As for the analytics side of thing, which was treated as a separate category, Google Analytics earned a massive 91%, with the next highest competitor being Crazy Egg with a comparatively lowly 23%.

    It’s plain to see that Google is still the top dog when it comes to planning and executing an SEO campaign, from its Webmaster Tools and Keyword Planner tools to the Analytics service that so many of us rely on to interpret results. Moz is close behind, with OSE and Moz Pro earning the third and fourth spot, respectively.

    In a related category, Moz asked respondents to select their favorite content marketing tools (for finding and researching topics, curating content, or publishing and distributing content). The top five results are below:

    • Google Alerts: 59%
    • Google Trends: 59%
    • Reddit: 30%
    • BuzzSumo: 30%
    • Followerwonk: 26%

    Other popular tools mentioned included Fresh Web Explorer, Feedly, Disqus, Google+ Trending, and HARO (Help a Reporter Out). What you’ll notice here is the stark drop in percentages compared to SEO tools. With top SEO tools earning upwards of 90 percent, the roughly 60 percent earned by Google Alerts and Google Trends is relatively low. What this implies is that there are fewer people using content tools compared to SEO tools, and that the distribution is more even across other competitors.

    In an effort to gauge the relative popularity of social media platforms for marketers, Moz also asked respondents which platforms they use for their in-house or client marketing campaigns. The top five results were:

    • Facebook: 90%
    • Twitter: 84%
    • Google+: 62%
    • LinkedIn: 58%
    • YouTube: 40%

    Other results in the top 10 included Pinterest, Instagram, Reddit, Tumblr, and Quora. Most of the top five is no real surprise, given the tools for advertisers and audience composition of those popular institutions. The only real shock is Google+ getting the third rank despite its declining popularity and seeming abandonment by Google itself. Also surprising is the lack of Snapchat’s presence, despite its skyrocketing popularity over similar apps.

    Planning and Execution

    articleimage1364 Planning and Execution (1)

    In a separate section, Moz asked marketers to describe how they spent most of their time, outlining the main activities that constitute their days as online marketers. In order, the top five responses were:

    • Analytics
    • Keyword Research
    • Site Audits
    • Content Creation
    • Social Media Marketing

    You’ll notice that analytics claimed the top spot here, and for good reason. Analytics is what allows marketers to prove their value, and simultaneously perform research that leads to improvements in the campaign. Keyword research as a second place finisher is a bit surprising, considering the declining influence of keywords in Google’s search results. Site audits, content creation, and social media marketing all fall into place generally according to popular expectations and relative importance.

    Key Insights

    articleimage1364 Key insights

    Even though much has changed in terms of technology and consumer behavior, much of the fundamentals for online marketers has remained the same. Agencies haven’t been spooked out of performing SEO, or even out of using keywords as a basis for research, despite Google’s updates rapidly shifting toward an exclusively semantic form of search. Similarly, the popularity of social media platforms hasn’t been shaken much from previous years, despite newly emerging competitors and new data about the effectiveness of previously popular platforms.

    Hopefully, this data has introduced you to some new tools, new trends, and new platforms to use in your own marketing efforts. You won’t find any revolutionary paradigm shifts compared to the results of last year, but you do see the makings for a stable course forward; SEO hasn’t been compromised so far, so it’s likely to remain a pivotal marketing institution for the next several years at least. Similarly, analytics (and by extension, Google Analytics) remains the most important element of any marketing program—at least to the people in the thick of it.

  3. 5 Monthly Checkups to Keep Your Site Lean

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    Your website is the heart of your online strategy. It hosts your content, informs your new visitors, rewards your old ones, and ultimately generates the revenue you need to keep your business running. Since most of your online marketing and advertising strategies are designed to get users to your website, it’s vital that your site remain healthy and lean enough to support that functionality.

    Every few years, you’ll need a design facelift to reimagine your brand and keep up with the times, and every day you should update your site with something new—whether that’s a product, a blog, or just an image—but there’s a middle ground of updates you’ll need to run to make sure your site is up to snuff. Once a month, you should conduct a “checkup” audit to see how your site is running, outside of any one particular strategy. For example, you might have monthly diagnostic reads on your social or SEO campaign, but they don’t dig deep into the functionality of your site.

    If you want to keep your site as lean and efficient as possible, be sure to check these five vital signs every month:

    1. Check your site speed.

    articleimage1330 Check your site speed

    Site speed is important for a number of reasons. If it’s too slow, your customers are going to leave, and you can probably back this up with personal experience. How many times have you gone to a site, waited for more than a minute for it to load, and then bailed because it took too long? Even if you did stick around to get the information you needed, you’d probably be frustrated by the experience. Keeping your site loading as quickly as possible is going to keep your customers on site for longer and leave them with a better impression of your brand.

    Plus, remember that Google uses site loading speed as a ranking factor—it’s not nearly as important as the quality of your onsite content, but it is significant enough to mention. As a general rule, the faster your site is, the higher it’s going to rank in Google, so shaving those extra seconds can count.

    This is also a necessary monthly checkup because it doesn’t take long to address. If you find your site is lagging for any reason, take a look at the backend of your system. Resize any unnecessarily large images, check your caching settings, and delete any unused blog drafts or similar clutter that you find in your CMS.

    2. Compare your site map to your site.

    articleimage1330 Compare your site map to your site

    This is something that should be done occasionally because search engines use sitemaps as a virtual roadmap for your site. If you have a sitemap that features a page that isn’t on your site or a sitemap that doesn’t feature a new page on your site, it could cause a discrepancy in Google’s index and you could miss out on some ranking potential as a result—not to mention confusing the hell out of your visitors.

    Too many people upload their sitemap once and forget about it. This is unwise; if you’re an average business, things change on your site regularly. People add new pages, delete old pages, and update others. It’s a frantic and unpredictable process, and you need to ground it by checking on your sitemap on a monthly basis.

    3. Review your mobile functionality.

    articleimage1330 Review your mobile functionality

    Minor changes in your site can have a big impact on your mobile appearance. Be sure to check your site on multiple different mobile devices to see how it displays. For example, you might find that the addition of a new link in your navigation pushes another one off to the side, or you might find that the most recent image you uploaded is cut off by the responsive view. Modern mobile users are very demanding, so if even one inconsistency or glitch shows up on a user’s device, it might be enough to send them away for good. Don’t let it happen to your site.

    4. Check the recentness of your images.

    articleimage1330 check the recentness of your images

    This goes for your home page in particular, but every page of your site may be affected. Chances are you have a slider or similar carousel of images on your home page, showing off products, showing off the team, or otherwise showcasing the strength of your brand. You’ll want to swap these images out every once in a while or people will get bored—or worse, you’ll have images for things that no longer exist. Once a month, do a thorough review of your site, and swap in some updated images.

    5. Find something to remove.

    As a general rule, the less “stuff” you have on your site, the better (the exception, of course, being ongoing content in your blog or news area). Users crave a minimalistic experience, so the more fluff you can remove the better. During your once-a-month checkup, venture around your site like a wandering visitor, and see if there isn’t something you can remove. It could be a dead link, an unnecessary ad, or an image that does nothing but take up space.

    If you remember to audit and fix these five potential problems every month, you should have no problem keeping your site, up, running, and functional. When your site runs faster, smoother, and more efficiently, your customers will be happier, and you’ll see higher conversion rates and revenue as a result.

  4. 3 Options for Handling Negative Reviews on Yelp

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    Yelp is a battleground for many businesses. The power of a single review can make or break the future of your business, depending on the circumstances. A well-written positive review by a noteworthy personality can attract thousands of new people to your brand and bolster your visibility in search engines, but all it takes is one devastating review to draw people far away.

    Most modern entrepreneurs dread the prospect of getting a negative review. But while negative reviews can be intimidating, they are not unconquerable. In fact, most businesses will encounter at least one scathing negative review throughout the course of their development. You can mitigate negative reviews as much as possible by constantly listening to feedback and improving your business, but sooner or later, a negative review will pop up, and how you respond to that negative review can go a long way in overcoming—or enabling—its potentially harmful effects.

    In Yelp’s current format, there are three main options for handling a negative review, all of which are intended to improve your brand image and limit the potential damage from the review:

    1. Offer a solution.

    articleimage1308 Offer a solution

    Your first course of action is to find a resolution for the problem at hand. Let’s say a customer recently bought a product from you that turns out to be defective. In anger, they turn to Yelp and write a negative review about it. The simple solution is to reach out to that individual and offer to replace that item with a functioning version; in most cases, this is more than enough to repair the damage, and any review readers will see your commitment to customer service.

    Unfortunately, not all complaints can be resolved so simply. Others may take issue with the level of service you offer, the friendliness of your staff, or even the convenience of your location. People are picky, and especially in service-based industries, it’s not possible to offer an immediate solution. Instead, all you can do is pledge to make an improvement following the user’s critique. If you find multiple people with the same complaint, you owe it to yourself to fix it as soon as possible.

    2. Apologize and make it up to the person.

    articleimage1308 Apologize and make it up to the person

    This is straightforward, and doesn’t require much attention to detail. Assume for a moment that you have an angry or slighted reviewer who cannot be satisfied with a simple solution. At this point, all you can do is apologize for whatever circumstances arose and offer a chance to make it up to the person. When it comes to apologies, simpler is always better; you’d be surprised what a sincere and direct “I’m sorry” can do for your customers’ sentiments of you.

    As for the “making it up to them” part, this is a little trickier, but it’s also flexible. For example, you can offer the customer a discount on their next order, or send them a free sample. You can also ask the customer directly if anything will make up for the situation. For example, they may request that you make a change to how you do business (which you may or may not comply with). The key is to show other readers that you’re willing to make things right.

    3. Explain the situation.

    articleimage1308 Explain the situation

    Finally, you have an opportunity to contextualize the situation. This is arguably the most confrontational of the three approaches, and should be reserved for situations that you know are being unjustifiably cited for the negative review. For example, if a customer gives you a bad review for taking an excessively long time to complete a job, but the timeline was made clear to the customer up front, you can explain the situation. Keep a positive, amiable tone, but kindly point out to the reviewer that there are circumstances that led to this situation that are either beyond your control or were made clear well in advance of the transaction.

    Ideally, your response would contain elements of all three of these approaches, but not every situation can support such an ideal response. Utilize these options as you see fit, responding to each negative review as you deem appropriate.

    What Not to Do

    There are always alternative ways to handle things, and your brand may have some unique qualities that allow for a differentiated approach. There are, however, a handful of approaches you’ll want to avoid no matter what:

    • Don’t try to delete or remove the review. This isn’t an option on Yelp, but it exists in other online review formats. Trying to cover up a negative review will always end up in disaster—the original reviewer will likely become irate and even more insistent about the negative review, and your brand will look shady to any third party spectators.
    • Don’t become confrontational. Accusing the reviewer of ill intentions or stating that the customer is completely in the wrong (even though they might be) will make you look immature and make your business look undesirable.
    • Don’t ignore it. If left untouched, a bad review can make it seem like you don’t care about your business or your customers.

    Keep these best practices (and worst practices) in mind as you grow accustomed to managing your business’s presence in Yelp and other third party review sites. Hopefully, the negative reviews you receive will be few and far between, but when they do inevitably creep up on you, you’ll be prepared to neutralize them.

  5. 7 LinkedIn Habits to Earn You More Connections

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    LinkedIn is one of the most viable social channels for building more professional connections. Whether you’re looking for new job opportunities, business partners, external resources, mentors, clients, or employees, LinkedIn is one of the best online places to find them. Still, the “fishing” approach to LinkedIn, which involves setting up a profile and then waiting for something meaningful to happen, is practically useless. If you want to reap the full benefits of the social channel, you need to stay active in the community and work hard to build your base of connections.

    Implementing these seven regular habits will help you increase the number and quality of your connections on LinkedIn:

    1. Tend to your profile.

    articleimage1285 Tend to your profile

    Filling out your profile completely and accurately is one of the most important first steps in engaging with LinkedIn—it’s so important that by now, virtually everybody knows it. But most people view this as a once-and-over-with strategy, as if their careers never grow or change. If you want to successfully build new relationships, you have to revisit and update your profile often. Depending on the pace of your business, perhaps monthly. Review what you’ve said about yourself. What’s changed? Do you have a new job? New responsibilities? New skills or interests? Keeping your profile up-to-date will help introduce you to new groups faster and make sure all your new contacts know who you are in this moment.

    2. Connect with everyone you know (or meet) in real life.

    articleimage1285 Connect with everyone you know

    This is a first step that often gets neglected. You might have reached out and connected with everyone in your department, or maybe everyone in your company, but what about people you’ve worked with in the past? Or people you’ve gone to school with? All of these are valuable connections that will help you establish a foundation on the social media platform. Then, make it a habit to connect on LinkedIn with everyone you meet in real life, whether they’re new employees, new clients, or professionals you’ve met at networking events.

    3. Participate in group chats regularly.

    articleimage1285 Participate in group chats regularly

    LinkedIn Groups are one of the most valuable social tools available online. Get involved with as many groups as you are comfortable with, with the understanding that the only way to be successful in a Group is to participate regularly. Choose Groups that are relevant to your skills and industry, but don’t shy away from the Groups with lots of members, even if they’re overly general in topic. When someone asks a question, jump in with your answer. When two people spark a debate, choose a side and state your opinion. Make yourself known in the community.

    4. Ask for advice.

    articleimage1285 Ask for advice

    Asking for help is one of the best ways to build an initial bond, at least according to Ben Franklin. Pose a question to a Group (or maybe just to your connections) that requires a response, such as asking for advice on a certain problem you face. Odds are overwhelming that someone, potentially someone else looking for new connections, will drop in and dispense that advice to you. Not only will you walk away with more practical knowledge, but you’ll have a group of new people who are aware of you and your position.

    5. Like and share things.

    articleimage1285 Like and share things

    Liking and sharing is cheap. All it takes is the click of a button, which makes it far easier than even typing out a question or a response. People share content and material on LinkedIn all the time, and it’s in their best interest to achieve as many engagements as possible. If they see you’ve liked or shared their material, they’ll think of you warmly, and they’ll also be more likely to share material of yours in the future. Again, this is a habit to increase your exposure—the more times people see you engaging, the more influence you’re going to gain.

    6. Reach out to LinkedIn members you’ve touched.

    This is a critical step in building connections—the actual request. You don’t want to reach out and try to connect with people you’ve never met before. Doing so can give you a bad reputation, and might even get you flagged as a spammer. Instead, reach out only to people you’ve already contacted on the platform, even if it was just a passing gesture like a shared piece of content. Mention the touchpoint in your request, and make it a point to reach out to as many “touched” people as possible.

    7. Post content and insights.

    You have to be an active contributor to the community if you want to earn a greater reputation. That means producing your own content and insights, and giving them to the community. Share articles from your personal blog or new conclusions you’ve reached both in a Group setting and on your personal profile. People who like what they read of yours will naturally reach out with you for a connection.

    Once your number of connections has increased, more doors will open to you. You’ll have more options in terms of clients (or employers, or employees, etc.), and you’ll have far greater influence in the industry. The content you share will have more eyes on it, the posts you make will carry more impact, and anyone doing background research on your level of authority will see that you have more. With virtually no downside, there’s no reason not to start implementing these habits immediately.

  6. 5 Original Research Ideas for Low Budget Whitepapers

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    Whitepapers are some of the most valuable types of content you can produce. Chock full of details, exceeding in length, and born from original research, they’re custom-made to appeal to serious potential clients, attract ample links, and boost your authority. With the right information and the right writer, it’s a simple matter to create an appropriately long, detailed, well-written whitepaper. The problem usually comes from that third distinguishing characteristic: the original research part.

    Original research means you’re doing all the work yourself, which makes it both a strength and a weakness of the strategy. It’s a strength because no other companies or individuals have sought to engage in this research before, but it’s a weakness because it takes significant time (or money, or both) to conduct this research. Some research ventures take months of careful planning and execution and hours of compiling to generate meaningful statistics.

    Fortunately, you don’t have to commit to that level in order to create a solid, well-researched whitepaper. There are alternative strategies you can use to conduct the research necessary for a reasonable whitepaper without spending all your marketing budget or wasting countless hours of time:

    1.Surveys.

    articleimage1284 Surveys

    Surveys are one of the most practical and available means of gathering data, and because they’re so open-ended, they can be used for almost any purpose. Let’s say you’re a B2B company looking for some insights about your demographics’ needs—for example, if you’re in human resources, you could investigate the hiring needs of businesses in your target vertical. In this case, you could put together a survey and send it to decision makers in those relevant companies.

    Creating a survey is easy—free tools like SurveyMonkey exist as intuitive interfaces that can be used by anybody to create surveys of any length or complexity. Distributing it to the relevant parties is usually the hard part. You can do this by tapping your existing network of clients, partners and other professionals, or by branching out on social media. If you continue to have problems, you can compensate people for their time—which costs a bit more, but is still less expensive than most other original research methods.

    2. AB Tests.

    articleimage1284 AB Tests

    AB tests are similarly inexpensive, but there are two limiting factors that may prevent you from using it as practically as surveys. First, they are far more limited in scope—you can conduct a survey about anything in the world, but you can only run an AB test with tangible items, such as products, websites, or designs. Second, they necessitate a limited input of information. Whereas a survey may aggregate data from thousands of people, your AB test only covers one trial.

    Still, if you have a question or hypothesis that an AB test can serve, it’s a viable and efficient system. Plus, if your AB test serves your business in some direct way (such as AB testing ads in a live environment), you won’t have to dedicate any additional spend to it.

    3. Observable Engagements.

    articleimage1284 Observable Engagements

    The word “observable” is the key to understanding this method. Rather than probing various people or environments for certain pieces of information, you’ll only be perusing what already exists. Don’t just look for new facts and statistics—that would quality as secondary research, and would render your attempts for originality useless. Instead, look for data you can ascertain on your own. For example, if you’re writing a whitepaper about how many manufacturing businesses currently have websites with social integrations, you can look up all the manufacturing businesses in your area, determine which ones have websites, and look to see which of those have social integrations. It’s a more manual, more time-intensive process, but it’s also completely free.

    4. Case Studies.

    articleimage1284 Case studies

    Case studies are individual stories about clients, customers, or instances that your audience may not already be familiar with. The most common application here is taking a client and examining its growth from before they got involved with your business to after that involvement, but there are also variables you can experiment with. Case studies do offer valuable insights, and they’re relatively easy to secure (as long as you have clients in good standing), but they suffer a sometimes-debilitating weakness; they only examine one or a handful of instances. While the average reader may not think much of this distinction, you’ll forfeit any ability to make general conclusions or global insights based on the data you acquire, and you may earn fewer links as a result.

    5. Company Data.

    articleimage1284 Company Data

    Last but not least, depending on the size of your company, you can search the depths of your records to come up with some aggregated metrics. For example, you may have a handful of clients using one particular strategy (strategy A), and a handful of clients using another (strategy B). If you notice that strategy A tends to work really well in the short-term, but strategy B works better in the long-term, you can publish a whitepaper documenting those results and collecting general information from your clients across the board. Unfortunately, businesses large enough to have access to this type of client information generally have a big enough budget to fund more intensive original research projects, rendering this strategy inaccessible to many small business owners.

    Try using one of these research possibilities as the foundation for your next whitepaper. It will still demand your full attention, lots of time, and lots of effort, but the burden of research will be far more manageable overall. Consider adopting the same method for future whitepapers; upon repetition, you’ll be able to develop a skillset and familiarity for that specific method, and in time, you’ll become even more efficient at using it. The more efficiently you can produce whitepapers, the greater ROI you’ll be able to earn from them.

  7. 7 Ways to Measure Your Reader Engagement

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    Reader engagement is one of the most important qualities you’ll optimize in a content marketing campaign, yet the very term “engagement” is a little fuzzy. It’s a buzzword thrown around by content marketers and advertisers alike, and it’s generally accepted to refer to the level of interest or sentiment felt by someone as he/she encounters your material.

    As far as I’m considered, the engagement factor separates the real potential customers from the window shoppers. Engagement, the conscious emotional or intellectual connection a user has to a given story or feature, is therefore a fairly reliable metric for the health of your campaign and the power of your content. But an “emotional or intellectual connection” is difficult to measure directly.

    Instead, we have a series of different snapshots you can take to indirectly measure your overall reader engagement:

    1. Comments.

    articleimage1275 Comments

    The first metric is one of the easiest to measure, at least if you have comments enabled on your blog. For a user to leave a comment, they generally have to feel passionate about what they’re reading. It doesn’t necessarily take a lot of time or effort, but the vast majority of online readers never leave comments. Motivating even one comment is a sign that your content is reaching your audience effectively. Don’t only look at comments on your blog itself, though—syndicate your article on various social media channels and see if people comment there. Generally, the more comments you attract, the more engaging your content is.

    2. Social shares.

    articleimage1275 social share

    Looking at social media once again, you can measure your reader engagement by seeing how many people have shared a particular article to their friends and family members. Hopefully, you’ve got social media share buttons installed on your blog (if you don’t already, it’s time to do that). The easier you can make it to share your content the better. Otherwise, you’ll have to rely on people taking their own initiative, or rely on your followers sharing a link your posted. However you approach the situation, more shares is a general indicator of greater reader engagement. Most people won’t think of sharing something unless it strikes a strong chord with them.

    3. Email signups.

    articleimage1275 email signup

    If you’re blogging regularly, you should have at least one regular email blast going out to your loyal readers as a “recap” of your most valuable posts (and a few blasts with special offers and promotions from your brand). I’ll assume you’re doing this, and that you have a location to sign up for emails located somewhere visible on your blog. With this in place, you’ll be able to directly measure how many people were impressed enough by your content to sign up for future updates. If a reader is sufficiently engaged, he/she will sign up for more.

    4. Conversions.

    articleimage1275 conversion

    You might consider an email signup to constitute a “conversion,” but I’ll assume that you actually have a separate signup or purchase that you’d rather have. For example, you might have people signing up for a free whitepaper download, or an e-commerce integration that pushes your main products. Either way, you can use your conversion rate to indicate how strongly your content can motivate your inbound visitors. This is one of the fuzzier metrics we’ll be using, as conversions can be influenced by a number of factors and you might earn conversions from non-readers, but still—if your conversion rate grows with all other things being equal, it’s a good indication of your engagement growing.

    5. Time spent on page.

    articleimage1275 time spent on page

    This is the first of our final three metrics, all of which can be found in Google Analytics. First, drill down on the Behavior tab until you find a few URLs associated with articles on your blog. You should be able to see the average amount of time a user spends on these pages—generally, the more time a user spends on a page, the more engaged he/she is with the content on that page. If your blogs are attracting users for a longer period of time, they’re likely more engaging than the other pages of your site.

    6. Bounce rates.

    Bounce rates, on the other hand, indicate low engagement. The higher the bounce rate of a given page, the more likely it is that your readers find the page disinteresting or disengaging. You want your users to be so engaged that they can’t help but stay on your site for longer. If you come across the paradoxical situation of a high time spent on a given page but a high bounce rate, average these values with the other pages of your site to establish a clear conclusion.

    7. Repeat visitors.

    Finally, take a look at the amount of repeat traffic you get—Google will break down your “new” visitors in the Acquisition section, but also take a look at your direct visits. Obviously, attracting new visitors is never a bad thing, but your total number of repeat visitors should steadily increase as your engagement continues to be positive.

    If you’re seeing high and growing numbers for the majority of these metrics, then pat yourself on the back. You’re cultivating an atmosphere of positive engagement, and your readers are greatly interested in your material. If you encounter low or stagnant figures more often, however, you’ll need to take a critical look at how your content attempts to grab the attention of your readers, and make substantial improvements to your overall approach.

  8. 7 Ridiculously Simple Ways to Increase Reader Loyalty

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    Reader loyalty is one of the most important—and yet most elusive—features of your content marketing campaign. If your readers are loyal, they’ll keep coming back for more, and almost every new reader you get has a strong chance of becoming a permanent addition to your audience. Without that loyalty, your readers will be nothing more than temporary blips on the radar, showing up once with no intention of ever coming back.

    The problem is that writing “good” content isn’t enough to encourage reader loyalty. In fact, loyalty is earned through a variety of different factors, few of which perform predictably or straightforwardly. Still, there are several tricks you can use to increase your readers’ loyalty:

    1. Establish clear branding throughout your content campaign.

    articleimage1270 Establish clear branding throughout your content campaign

    This should be a given for your content marketing campaign, but in case it isn’t, take corrective action immediately. Every piece of content you produce should clearly demonstrate your branding. For example, in your infographics, you can use your brand colors and your logo in the presentation. In your videos, include a clear acknowledgement that your brand was behind their creation. In your written articles you’ll have to be more subtle—evoking your brand voice in the tone and focus of your writing—but it’s still essential to include. Anyone reading your content should immediately be able to recognize it as one of your brand’s own; otherwise there’s nothing differentiating you from your competitors.

    2.Get involved in the comments section.

    articleimage1270 Get involved in the comments section

    Reader loyalty is a relationship, and relationships can only develop through conversation. Your written articles are one-sided conversations, and although they can serve as a great jumping-off point, they offer little to no interactivity that can keep your audience engaged. To start actual conversations, turn to the comments sections. Invite your readers to contribute as often as possible, and if people aren’t talking, make it a point to start conversations yourself. The more you talk with your readers, the closer they’ll grow to your brand, and the more likely they’ll want to come back for more.

    3. Host recurring features.

    articleimage1270 Host recurring features

    One-off articles can and should always be a part of your content cycles, but recurring features are one of the easiest ways to invite readers back to your blog, especially if they’re new. Take, for example, a detailed piece you’ve written on the state of marketing on Twitter. By splitting that piece into two or three smaller pieces and extending the title of the first to simply say “part one,” you’ll immediately pique the interest of your readership and inspire them to come back to check on the status of the inevitable “part two.” Going a step further, you can also feature weekly content formats—such as a weekly interview or weekly infographic.

    4. Make yourself easy to find on social media.

    articleimage1270 Make yourself easy to find on social media

    Few people visit individual blogs to get updated. Instead, they rely on the content that’s shared on social media. But not all people use the same social media platforms, and not all will go out of their way to find you on those platforms. That’s why it’s your job to make it easy for your readers to get involved with you socially. Claim your profiles on as many platforms as possible, and update them regularly, especially when you have a new post to submit. Similarly, you’ll need to include your social icons prominently on many pages throughout your site, and make it easy for people to share your work to their own social profiles (this will also increase your audience volume in addition to reader loyalty).

    5. Offer guest posting spots.

    People feel closer to organizations and groups when they feel that they’re an active member in the community. Getting your readers to contribute directly to you blog can make them feel even more tightly connected with it—and you’ll get the added benefits of new content and additional promotional outlets. You can be as selective or as open as you’d like, depending on the goals and direction of your brand, but it’s worthwhile to pursue at least occasional community-drawn guest posts.

    6. Create a network of your own posts.

    One way to get your readers to immerse themselves in your brand further is to create an easily navigable network of your own posts. You can do this by including embedded links in each post that link to other posts that elaborate on your points. While you don’t want to bog down your posts with obnoxious links pointing all over your site, showcasing your history as a content marketer and guiding readers to additional value can help breed loyalty and increase their perceptions of you as an authority.

    7. Reward your loyal readers.

    articleimage1270 Reward your loyal readers

    Direct rewards never hurt. Let your ongoing readers know you appreciate them by offering promotional giveaways, discounts, or even contests on your blog. this will keep your readers involved, give them value and incentive to keep coming back, and will make your brand seem more friendly and appreciative as well.

    None of these tricks will, individually, suddenly turn all your readers into fierce brand loyalists. However, if implemented together and implemented consistently, they should have a significant impact on your reader retention levels. Because every company and therefore every audience has different needs and unique qualities, it’s impossible to make any steadfast prediction on how your readers will behave. These tricks will get you started, but the rest of the burden in understanding and meeting your readers’ needs rests on your shoulders.

  9. 5 Essential Truths About User Experience Design

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    User experience is one of the most important aspects of any online business or online marketing strategy. Strictly defined, user experience is the sum total of a user’s impressions, feelings, and thoughts as he/she navigates your platform (for the purposes of this article, we’ll be referring to a website as the target for user experience design, though any number of interactive platforms could be a worthy substitute). Making a user happy, giving him/her easy, convenient directions, and eliciting feelings of comfort and familiarity are quintessential to a positive user experience.

    So what value is a great user experience? First and foremost, it gets a user to stay on your site for longer, and increases the likelihood that he/she will come back. Second, it increases the likelihood that he/she will tell others about the experience, peripherally increasing your traffic. Last but not least, it can affect your standing in other areas of the Internet—for example, great user experiences are correlated with higher search engine rankings, and if your user experience ratings are high, you’ll be more likely to establish relationships with other major players in the industry.

    Without a solid UX design in place, your strategy will immediately fall apart. That being said, it’s important to understand some core truths about UX design before plunging in:

    1. It’s more than just aesthetic design choices.

    articleimage1259 it’s more than just aesthetic design choices

    First is a core misconception about UX design, and it has to do with that pesky word “design.” When people think about design, especially when it comes to web design, they think of aesthetic choices like coloration, layout, structure, and so on. While these are all important to user experience, UX design and web design are not intrinsically the same. Web design can have all kinds of motivations—for example, you could make the most beautiful site possible, or make a site that only cares about funneling people to conversion. A successfully designed site from a UX perspective might be beautiful and have elements of conversion optimization, but its primary focus is always the user’s interaction.

    Plus, most UX design includes more than just the “aesthetic” part of design. There’s also sitemapping, branding, navigation, and similar subjects to consider.

    2. Successful design choices aren’t always rational ones.

    articleimage1259 Successful design choices aren’t always rational ones

    This is a hard concept to accept, because we’d like to imagine that the world always behaves rationally. Because user experience depends on the instincts, intuitions, first impressions, and emotions of the individual user (none of which are standardly predictable), some of the best UX design choices are inherently irrational.

    Let me illustrate with a simple example. Imagine a navigation bar with a horizontal layout. It might make sense that your user’s eye is drawn to the leftmost item first, as most American users read from left to right. But you might discover in testing that the middle item is usually the first seen and first clicked. Depending on your priorities, this could demand a redesign. In UX, you can’t trust your instincts—you can only trust the tests.

    3. It’s not easy.

    articleimage1259 It’s not easy

    On the surface, UX seems like it would be a fun, relatively easy experience. It might seem like designing an amusement park, adding new features that look fun and experimenting with different combinations until you find the perfect layout. But the reality is, UX is a hard, tedious, and arduous process. As we saw in my previous point, your instincts and beliefs are constantly called into question by real data, and in many cases, you’ll end up with a product you don’t subjectively “like” because it happens to work best.

    The unpredictability of users makes the process even more difficult. You might find that a portion of your audience loves your site, but another portion hates it—what do you do then? The unfortunate answer is usually, start from scratch.

    4. Users are everything.

    articleimage1259 Users are everything

    In other ways, UX design is really quite simple. In theory, it can be reduced to a single process: find out what your users want and give it to them. Your users are the only thing that matters—it doesn’t matter what your company wants, what you want, or what the design award organizations want—if your users are happy, you’ve been successful. If they aren’t, you’ve failed. Conducting surveys and tests can help you uncover what people are actually thinking and feeling, but that human factor is still the simplest and yet most complicated part of the whole process.

    5. It demands ongoing attention.

    articleimage1259 It demands ongoing attention

    UX isn’t something you do once. It isn’t a phase of the web design and development process that you go through, settle on, and then ignore for the remainder of your online marketing campaigns. It is a constantly ongoing process. New technologies emerge, new competitors grow popular, and user needs constantly change. If you want to build (and keep) a successful UX design, you have to learn from and adapt to those changes. It’s an ongoing process that can’t be abandoned.

    When it comes to UX design, your best bet is usually working with an expert. That means recruiting an outside consultant, hiring an in-house expert, or working with a professional agency. Taking it upon yourself to handle all the UX changes to your site will likely end up in disaster, or at least unmet potential. It really is the most important element of your business as it stands online, so don’t underestimate it.

  10. Why Your Customer Communication Demands Multiple Channels

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    articleimage1247 Why Your Customer Communication Demands Multiple Chanel

    Customer communication is one of the most important aspects of your business. Your customers will dictate the success of your enterprise—keep them happy and informed, and they’ll keep coming back to you for all their needs, telling their friends about the pleasant experience. Make a misstep, however, and you could permanently lose a potentially lifelong follower.

    Communication is the key to retaining this level of satisfaction. No matter how perfectly constructed your business is, something is eventually going to go wrong—you’ll miss a shipment, you’ll send out a defective product, or your service won’t go as anticipated. When those things inevitably do go wrong, communicating quickly, politely, and accurately is the only way to remedy the issue.

    We’re entering a new era of customer communication, and adequately preparing for the transition can position your company for great success.

    The Old Model of Customer Communication

    articleimage1247 The Old Model of Customer Communication

    For decades, most businesses have worked to turn their customer communication strategy into gigantic funnels, one for inbound communications and one for outbound communications. At the mouth of the inbound funnel, the entirety of the customer base would be ushered into one channel for further service. For example, a company would have a single “customer service” phone number that would accept all requests, no matter their intentions. This number would be listed on product packaging, promotional materials, emails, catalogs, ads, and would be given out to anybody who inquired using a different channel.

    Similarly, the majority of outbound communications would occur in a concentrated medium. For example, a company would work to ensure that every customer was signed up to receive email blasts, and then rely on the power of those emails to reach the entirety (or majority) of its customer base.

    The advantages of this model are clear; by concentrating all your effort into one channel, you save time and money and produce a much more efficient system. You can invest exclusively in your inbound customer hotline, making new hires and establishing new processes, and eventually, your team will become masters at handling inquires.

    But there are also disadvantages to this system. Because there is no redundancy, a failure in this line of communication is an instant and non-rectifiable failure across the board. Because you can never be sure that you’ve made this channel available to the entirety of your customer base, you’ll have a few stragglers that never realize its benefits.

    Why the Funnel No Longer Works

    articleimage1247 Why the Funnel No Longer Works

    Today, the disadvantages to the funnel-based system have outnumbered the advantages. Too much has changed, both from a communications technology and from a customer needs perspective, to allow this approach to continue.

    Take, for example, the sheer number of communication channels available. In a world once exclusively dominated by in-person visits, direct mail, and phone calls, a funneled approach could be feasible. However, once you add in emails, online directories, instant messages, video chats, and about a thousand different social media platforms, that once-narrow path becomes much wider. Ostensibly, these channels are so diverse in function, advantages, and disadvantages, that it would be inefficient to forward each one to a singular final destination.

    Along with this, consider the fact that each individual customer has different communication preferences. A high school student might only use apps like Snapchat and Instagram to communicate with his/her peers. A young adult might rely mostly on emails, but jump on Facebook from time to time. A senior might prefer more traditional means of communication, or direct human contact. Each demographic and each individual will have unique preferences, so funneling them all to one communication channel will instantly alienate the majority of them.

    The sheer availability of technology has also created more problems for the funnel approach. The majority of modern users have a smartphone in their pocket at all times, capable of using multiple forms of communication instantly and reliably. This has created a generation of users that demands instant answers to common inquiries. If they are forced to go through multiple steps, or are forwarded to different communications channels, they may become impatient and abandon the process altogether.

    The Multi-Channel Approach

    articleimage1247  The Multi-Channel Approach

    The best approach for the modern era is to capitalize on the number of channels that are available. It’ll take some extra work up front, and in some cases, more managerial expenses, but the flip side is that you’ll be able to please a larger percentage of your audience a larger percentage of the time. At the end of the day, your customers’ happiness is all that matters.

    If you’re looking for a checklist of channels to make available, this one can get you started—but be sure to add your own preferred mediums to the mix:

    • Printed how-to guides and troubleshooting documents
    • Online troubleshooting and searchable FAQ sections
    • Customer forums (with official moderation)
    • Blogs and video tutorials
    • Email (both inbound and outbound)
    • Customer ticket logging
    • Phone lines
    • Instant messaging onsite or through Skype (or a similar program)
    • Video chatting
    • Social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.)

    Begin your strategy by offering as many mediums as possible, but do monitor their progress over time. You’ll likely find that some of your channels perform better than others, and some are flat-out duds. Feel free to eliminate the duds in favor of routing those expenses to your more popular channels. Having a multi-channel approach doesn’t mean you have to invest in all those channels equally—it just means you have to make those channels available.

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-The AudienceBloom Team