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Category Archive: AudienceBloom

  1. Announcing the Results of the “What Works in Online Marketing” Survey (2016 Edition)

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    As a marketer, have you ever wondered:

    • What other marketers are spending their money on?
    • What strategies other marketers are using?
    • What results other marketers are seeing?
    • Where the marketing community thinks trends are heading?

    Of course you have. We all have. The answers to these questions can help you understand your place in the marketing world, come up with better strategies, and prepare for the uncertain future of online marketing in dozens of specific areas. But unfortunately, these answers aren’t clear; even if you talk to every marketer you meet in person, you’re still only getting a narrow perspective of the marketing landscape.

    At AudienceBloom, we’ve attempted to go a step further by creating, executing, and analyzing a survey to uncover the answers to these questions, and then some. Sprawling over 50 questions, we collected information from 357 of the nation’s online marketers, and the results spell an interesting and dynamic future for some of the most popular marketing strategies of our era. As a general trend, marketing budgets are on the rise, but that only scratches the surface of what we found.

    Find out:

    • How marketing budgets are going to change in the future (hint: 84 percent of marketers are aligned here)
    • Which strategies are generating the highest ROI
    • Which strategies are dying out (with 59 percent of respondents predicting a decline)
    • Which SEO tactics are the most effective
    • Which strategies have been the most challenging for marketers
    • Which social media platforms are most popular, and most effective (earning activity from 90 percent of users)
    • Where online marketers are spending the most (and least) (with 96 percent of responders either keeping or increasing their budget in one key area)
    • What types of content are most effective
    • Where SEO is headed over the course of the next decade (with 78 percent in agreement)

    If you’re ready to learn the answers to these questions (and more), or if you’re just curious how much we were able to learn, click here to download the full report – 100% free!

  2. A (Nearly) Comprehensive Guide to On-site Optimization

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    So you’re into SEO and you’re ready to get your hands dirty.

    You might be starting a campaign for the first time, gathering some preliminary research, trying to fix something that’s wrong in your strategy, or just brushing up on your skills. In any case, this is the guide you want.

    As you probably already know, SEO is split into two main worlds: onsite and offsite optimization.

    Onsite optimization refers to all the structures, techniques, and strategies necessary to include on your website, including all your individual pages. Offsite optimization refers to everything that happens outside that world, including links pointing to your site, social media activity of your brand and your users, guest posts, and so on.

    This guide is exclusively about onsite optimization. I’ll be writing more about offsite optimization in future guides, but first, I want to explain the essence of onsite optimization, why it’s important, and what you need to do to be successful.

    The Basics

    As I mentioned above, onsite optimization is about what you do on your own site. Onsite optimization can be broken down into individual tactics, all of which cumulatively impact your site’s visibility in search engines. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as flipping a switch, or adopting one new habit—there are many different tactics you’ll need to adopt, in many different areas.

    For starters, there are onsite optimization tactics that can be done only once—when you commit the change, you won’t have to worry about it again (at least until something changes or breaks). Others require ongoing attention. Some are structural, impacting the design and layout of your site, while others are qualitative, subjectively evaluating certain elements of your site.

    I’ll be posting a quick-reference checklist of all the onsite optimization factors you’ll need to consider at the end of this article, but because these tactics are so diverse in nature, I want to make sure you understand the theory behind them as much as their raw implementation.

    This guide is broken down into three main categories of tactics and techniques:

    • Indexation is your biggest priority, because it’s what makes your site visible to Google in the first place. If Google can’t index your site, or if it isn’t indexing your site properly, your pages won’t appear in any search results (or might appear incorrectly).
    • Being seen is important, but you also want to make sure your site is understood the right way. Including the right content, including titles, descriptions, and body copy of your pages, can ensure Google properly categorizes your site and presents it for relevant searches.
    • How your site functions, displays, and how your users interact with your site are also important considerations. It’s in Google’s best interest to rank sites with high performance levels, so make sure yours is functioning properly.

    Let’s work on exploring each of these categories individually.

    Proper Indexation

    Think of Google as a massive library that offers books for people searching for various topics. The first step to getting your book found is making sure your book is on the shelf—so let’s get it there.

    Crawler Accessible

    Your first job is to make sure that Google’s web crawlers can access your site. Think of these bots as scouts that work on Google’s behalf to scour the web and index information. If these crawlers can’t see your site or can’t access it, Google won’t be able to index it.

    There are a handful of reasons why this might be the case:

    • There’s a server-side error preventing bots from reaching your site.
    • Your site is down or otherwise inaccessible to any user.
    • You’ve accidentally blocked web crawlers in your robots.txt file (more on this below).

    It’s also worth mentioning that there are multiple web crawlers out there—several specific to Google, and several belonging to other major search engines and tech companies like Bing and Apple. Here are some of Google’s most relevant ones:

    Crawler

    Unless there’s something inherently wrong with your site or server, your site should be crawlable. It’s actually harder to stop Googlebot (and other search engine bots) from finding your site. If your site is new, it might take a few days to a few weeks to make it to Google’s index, so don’t be alarmed if you aren’t popping up in search results.

    robots.txt

    Your robots.txt file is like an instruction manual you can post to search engine bots in your top-level directory. It tells them which pages they should crawl and index, and which ones to avoid. By default, web crawlers index the entirety of your site, but there may be certain pages you don’t want indexed (e.g., pages with duplicate content).

    Before doing anything on your site, a bot will check the reference:

    www.yoursite.com/robots.txt

    This will specify a User-agent and specific pages with a Disallow tag. With the User-agent specification, you can exclude specific bots (see table in previous section) or reference all bots. The Disallow feature will then allow you to exclude any pages you don’t want to be indexed.

    As a general rule, you only need to worry about this if you have canonical issues to resolve, or if there’s a page that might interfere with your primary SEO goals. Otherwise, you can leave your robots.txt file blank. Either way, double check your work to make sure you haven’t accidentally precluded all search bots from seeing your entire site—it happens more often than you might think.

    One word of advice: don’t try to be sneaky by hiding bad or damaging material. Robots.txt instructions are publicly available information. You can see ours at AudienceBloom here:

    Robot

    If you’re concerned about the formatting or function of your robots.txt file, you can use Google’s free tester to check it out for possible errors.

    URL Structure

    Your URL structure can influence how your site is seen and how your pages are evaluated. Google favors sites that have clear, straightforward URLs that make it easier for users to navigate, along with descriptive text that tells Google what the page is about.

    • Avoid dynamic URLs. This makes it confusing for Google’s index and could be an indication of a deceptive practice.
    • Avoid any special characters or long numerical sequences, like “&$%^*” or “321987662090.”
    • Include a “breadcrumbs” trail, demonstrating the location of each page within subpages and categories. For example: Domain.com/first-category/secondary-category/final-page
    • Separate words with dashes “-“ rather than underscores “_”
    • Keep your URLs as concise as possible.
    • Include clear, descriptive text at the end of each URL, preferably including your target keywords.

    Take this link as an example: http://www.audiencebloom.com/2016/01/how-to-tell-if-an-seo-agency-is-trustworthy-in-5-steps/

    It’s static, concise, offers a breadcrumbs trail for the blog, and accurately describes the content of the page with relevant keywords.

    Sitemap Provision

    There are actually two kinds of sitemaps you can offer for your site, and both are important for SEO. How important? That’s somewhat debatable, but it’s almost certainly worth the effort to create.

    HTML sitemaps exist for users and search engine crawlers, and can usually be found in the footer of a website. It’s a good idea to make sure every page of your site links to this, so having it in the footer is the fastest and most reliable way to establish this. You can find ours here.

    XML sitemaps are a bit more technical, and you can upload them directly to Google via Webmaster Tools.Just head to the “Sitemaps” section and click “add/test sitemap” in the upper-right hand corner.

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    If there are any specific issues with your sitemap, Google will let you know.

    Here’s a great example of one given by Sitemaps.org (an ideal resource for understanding more about XML sitemaps):

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    Keep in mind that your site is always changing—you’re almost constantly adding pages, removing pages, or changing pages, so work to keep your site maps up-to-date. If you need some additional help, there are many popular site crawlers available online—one of the most popular is Screaming Frog, which is free for up to 500 URLs.

    Content Loading

    Do you see anything like this on your website?

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    That’s bad. All your content should be able to load properly on any device, with any browser, on practically any speed Internet connection. Your content should load directly from HTML (you don’t have to avoid AJAX or iFrames altogether, but the bulk of your content should come from HTML directly), and return no errors when user access is attempted.

    The reason for this should be obvious. Google wants to give people actual content—not blank spaces where content should be. Even if it wasn’t a search ranking factor, it would be an important user experience factor, so don’t neglect it.

    Microformatting

    If you’ve done any significant searching in the past few years, you’ve probably come across something like this:

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    Note the phrasing of the question and the purported answer, sectioned off from the rest of the search results. This is known as a “rich answer,” and it’s a part of Google’s Knowledge Graph. The Knowledge Graph isn’t a bank of information so much as it’s a network that taps into information on other websites. In this case, my query “how many US citizens are there” prompted Google to find the answer on the Wikipedia page “Demography of the United States.”

    Unfortunately, Google can’t do this all on its own—it needs help from webmasters to properly categorize and submit information. For webmasters, this presents a valuable ranking opportunity—it won’t increase your domain authority, but it will give you the chance to have your information posted prominently above traditional results.

    The way to categorize your information is through microformatting, sometimes referred to as structured data or structured markup. Basically, it’s a coding format you can use on your site to tell Google how to read information like events, people, organizations, actions, reviews, and many other archetypes. Since it gets technically complex (and warrants an article of its own), I won’t get into the details here, but Schema.org is a leading authority in microformatting, and offers detailed information how to apply it to your site.

    Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools

    This technically isn’t going to help your ranks—at least not directly—but signing up for Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools is essential if you want to gain more knowledge about your site, proactively respond to pressing issues, and learn how your strategies are working. If you have a Google account, you’re already halfway there. Google Analytics will prompt you to create a new site and place a tracking script in your code, and Webmaster Tools will require you to verify your ownership by putting a short verification script in your code or verifying your webmaster’s email address.

    I’ve already mentioned some of the onsite insights these tools can offer you, such as crawling your site and submitting a sitemap, and I’ll mention more, such as scouting for duplicate content and evaluating your meta data, but know that there are many more features to explore to improve your site.

    Optimizing Individual Pages

    Now that you know your site is properly indexed, let’s work on optimizing the individual pages of your site. You’ll have to apply these changes to each page of your site, so be sure to implement them for every new page as you add them.

    Page Titles and Meta Descriptions

    Let’s talk about titles and descriptions. Check this out:

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    The above example is a search for “AudienceBloom” and naturally, we’re the first to appear. Take a look at the sections of the entry highlighted above. The headline, with the link embedded, is the title of this page, while the short description below it is the description or “meta description.”

    Titles and descriptions play two main roles in the SEO world:

    • They tell Google what your content is about. For example, if your title is something like “Why dogs bark at cars,” Google will understand the purpose of your page and will be more likely to feature it for a search like “why is my dog barking at cars.”
    • They form users’ first impressions when they see your site in search listings. It’s important to start strong and entice users to click.

    Accordingly, your titles and descriptions should both exhibit the following qualities for all pages:

    • Unique. Don’t duplicate titles or descriptions, even if you’re trying to save time. You can pull up a list of duplicate meta data entries in Google WMT by heading to Search Appearance > HTML Improvements.
    • Concise. Don’t try to say more than you have to.
    • Descriptive. Describe your content as accurately as possible, including keywords relevant to your material. However, don’t stuff your titles or descriptions with keywords; only use them as you would in a natural conversation. Keyword stuffing is a big no-no.
    • Branded. However, your branding should appear toward the end of your titles for most pages, such as a “Primary keyword phrase and title | Brand name” format.
    • Compelling. Remember, you’re doing this to please users as much as you are search engines.

    With all that in mind, what makes titles and descriptions different?

    Just a few things:

    • Titles are more important. This is true for both search engines and users, so make sure your titles are as good as they can be. You have more wiggle room with descriptions.
    • Each has different length requirements. There’s a firm character limit, and if you pass it, Google will truncate your material (something you want to avoid if possible, but it’s not the end of the world if you have occasional discrepancies). The limit for titles is 75 characters, while descriptions get 160.

    While we’re talking about titles and descriptions, don’t forget your header tags. Numbered in sequence (H1, H2, H3, etc.), header tags indicate the main points of your body content—almost like a table of contents. This can help search engines properly understand and index your content, as headers are weighted more heavily than standard body copy.

    URL Structures

    I’ve already gone over what makes a good URL (in the Indexation section above), so I won’t repeat myself. However, it’s important to remind you that each page should have a properly formatted URL, preferably under 90 characters. Keep this in mind whenever adding a new page.

    On-Page Content

    Your on-page content tells Google much about your page. Though it usually serves as supplementary information to the more-important titles, descriptions, and headers (see two sections above), you shouldn’t neglect the on-page content for any page of your site. At a minimum, you should have 100 words of highly descriptive content. If you can’t offer that, you probably should have a page here.

    Content gives you three opportunities:

    • It shows you care about your audience. Google will only rank pages with sufficient content because otherwise, users won’t get what they need.
    • It gives you an opportunity to showcase more keywords. In addition to the keywords included in your title, description, and headers, you can use variations and synonyms of your keyword phrase to capitalize on semantic search patterns. Again, be careful not to over-optimize; only use terms as they would appear naturally.
    • It can help you earn links. Inbound links mean greater authority, but external sites will only link to you if your content is valuable.

    There are many factors for what’s considered “quality” content—far too many to list here, but these basics should get you started in the right direction.

    A Note on Duplicate Content

    One quick note—all content on your site should be unique (meaning it doesn’t appear anywhere else on your site). Sometimes, alternative URL forms (like http:// vs. https://) can cause Google to index one page twice over and register that as duplicate content. This is bad news. Fortunately, it’s easy to detect and correct—take a look in Google WMT under Search Appearance > HTML Improvements and you can generate a list of duplicate content instances. From here, you can either use your robots.txt file (see above) to block one instance of each occurring offender, or set up 301 redirects to properly canonicalizeyour links.

    Images

    It’s a good idea to include images wherever you can on your site. In combination with high-quality written content, these help convey to Google that you’re a high-authority site dedicated to bringing great content to your users. However, you can’t just stuff images all over your site and expect to rank higher.

    There are two main ways images can increase your search visibility:

    • Their contextual relevance signals quality and context to Google. For example, if you title your image “example of poison dart frog in Amazon rain forest” in your article “Poisonous animals to watch for in the Amazon,” Google will have a clear picture of the content you’re trying to offer users.
    • Their direct descriptions makes them capable of appearing in Image searches. Image search isn’t as popular as traditional searching, but you never know when someone might be searching for “dart frog” pictures and end up stumbling on your site—it’s an easy opportunity to capture, so don’t miss it.

    There are two ways to optimize your images:

    • Titles. Titles should be contextually relevant to your piece and your image.
    • Alt tags. Alt tags serve as direct descriptors of your image content.

    For example, take this picture of the Washington Monument:

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    A good title might be: “This Washington Monument photo illustrates how to optimize an image for SEO”

    While good alt text might be: “Washington Monument against sky”

    Notice how I’m not stuffing either of these with keywords, nor am I describing something that isn’t there. Something like “Monument SEO best practices and onsite optimization” wouldn’t serve me well (and probably doesn’t serve me well in the body of this paragraph, either).

    In addition, your titles and alt tags should follow most of the general best practices I outlined for page titles and descriptions (namely unique, concise, descriptive, and compelling).

    You can also optimize your images by making them a proper format (.jpg and .gif are popular standbys) and by making them smaller and easier to download (maximizing site speed—more on that later).

    Internal Links and External Links

    Most of your onsite content should include links to other pages, both internal and external.

    Internal links are important because they establish connections between different areas of your site and make it easier for your users to navigate. The more tightly linked your site is, the happier Google will be. As a general rule, no single page of your site should be more than four clicks away from any other page at any other time.

    External links are important because they show you aren’t just making things up—they’re your callouts to outside authorities.

    For both types of links, it’s important that your anchor text is accurate and descriptive; don’t just name the page you’re linking to, and don’t try stuffing your anchor text with keywords.

    Site Performance

    How your site performs can also factor into your domain authority, which in turn influences how your pages rank in searches. These are generally secondary to factors like your site structure and onsite content, but can influence your final ranks.

    Mobile Optimization

    Mobile optimization isn’t optional. Last year, mobile traffic overtook desktop traffic for the first time, and it still hasn’t stopped growing. If that wasn’t enough incentive, Google then released its “Mobilegeddon” update to reward every site with a fully functioning mobile site and punish those without one.

    Optimized for mobile means your site:

    • Loads quickly and easily on mobile devices.
    • Offers a design that doesn’t require zooming in and out, in a “thumb-friendly” format.
    • Presents text in a readable format without the need to zoom.
    • Has all its images and videos viewable on mobile.
    • Has mobile-friendly buttons and form-fields.

    There are a few ways to achieve this, but by far the easiest and most popular is through responsive design. Responsive design automatically flexes a site to accommodate any device that accesses it.

    A good example is CNN’s site:

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    Look how the content is basically the same, but “stacked” on the mobile version to make it easier for mobile users to access. If you’re in doubt about whether your site is considered “mobile-friendly,” Google offers a free test you can use to find out.

    Uptime and 404 Errors

    Your site should be up most of the time. If it ever goes down, due to a server issue or maintenance, you should be aware of it and work quickly to restore it to normal. This should go without saying.

    404 errors offer a bit more flexibility; these come into existence when one of your pages no longer exists (usually because it was deleted, renamed, or moved). 404 errors don’t hurt your ranks directly, but they can cause you some user experience woes—for example, if a user follows an old link or sees an old indexed page but only finds a 404 error, they may leave and never return.

    There are two easy ways to “fix” a 404 error, and both are welcomed by Google:

    • Restore the page. Fix the naming convention, or put the page back where it was.
    • Create a 301 redirect. Redirect traffic to the new version of the page, or a similar page. You can read more about how to do this here, straight from Google.

    That being said, there are some instances where leaving a 404 error alone is the best option, such as when the page is simply no longer relevant to your brand.

    Site Speed

    Site speed isn’t as big of a ranking factor as some might claim, but it can influence your authority. The faster your site loads, the happier your users will be—giving you a ranking bonus as well as a brand reputation bonus.

    There are several ways to speed up the performance of your site, including:

    • Reducing the size of your images.
    • Deleting plugins or add-ons you don’t need.
    • Using a caching plugin (effectively).
    • Enabling compression.
    • Deleting old or unused drafts of content.
    • Correcting any hosting problems that could be holding you back.

    Site speed is especially important for mobile users, as most mobile devices offer slower loading times than comparable desktop connections. Mobile users also tend to be more demanding, so every second here counts.

    Site Security

    Keeping your site secure won’t give you much of an extra ranking boost, but it will be valuable to your users. Opt for SSL encryption (you can tell you have this by the “s” in https://), and your users’ data will be more secure. Still, https is a ranking signal, and it may grow in power as the years go on. You can purchase an SSL certificate through your hosting provider.

    A Note on CMSs

    Before concluding this article, I want to mention something about CMSs. Most modern CMSs, including the ever-more-popular WordPress, offer built-in SEO features, some of which claim to optimize your site on your behalf or “automatically,” and others of which present these options in easier interfaces, such as allowing you to type in your titles and descriptions rather than embedding them in code.

    Most of these tools are valuable time-savers, helping you reduce your margin of error and get your work done faster and more efficiently. However, don’t make any assumptions. It’s not enough to assume that your CMS “took care” of something for you. Run the tests yourself and don’t be afraid to dig into the code of your site.

    Your Ultimate On-Site SEO Checklist

    I’ve given you a lot of information, so to make things easier, here’s an “ultimate” checklist you can use to make sure you’re optimizing your site effectively (split into sitewide and page-level sections).

    Print it out and keep it handy:

    Sitewide:

    • Double check and upload your robots.txt file to ensure search engines index your site properly.
    • Check to note any server errors that could prevent indexation.
    • Keep all your URLs static, organized logically with a breadcrumbs trail and minimal characters.
    • Use an HTML and an XML sitemap, and keep them updated.
    • Ensure your content loads properly, straight from HTML, and on all devices and browsers.
    • Use microformatting to feed search engines structured information.
    • Use internal links with descriptive anchor text to make your site more navigable.
    • Use external links with descriptive anchor text to make your site more authoritative.
    • Ensure all images are equipped with unique descriptions and alt tags.
    • Maximize site speed on all pages.
    • Ensure site security with SSL encryption.

    For Individual Pages:

    • Make sure your title tags are under 70 characters, unique, descriptive, and include a reference to a target keyword.
    • Make sure your meta descriptions are under 160 characters, unique, descriptive, and include a reference to a target keyword.
    • Include proper H1, H2, H3 (and so on) header tags on all your articles.
    • Keep each URL under 90 characters, with descriptive text and no strange characters.
    • Include a few hundred words (minimum) of descriptive, unique content on every page.

    With that, you should have everything you need to get started with onsite SEO (or check to ensure you’re doing everything properly). If you can cross off all the items on this checklist for all of your pages (and keep that quality consistent as your site grows and changes), you can consider your onsite work nearly complete. Beyond these factors, your greatest concerns should be user experience and ongoing content quality—but those are topics for another post.

  3. Are Your Readers Bored? Here’s How to Tell

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    Content marketing is only effective if your audience is engaged. They have to be intrigued by your headline, impressed by your body content, and then moved enough to take a strong action like converting, sharing, linking, or even commenting. Achieving that level of engagement is difficult even for exceptional content marketers, and there’s a problem that makes it even harder to achieve: boredom.

    The sad truth is that even “good” content can create reader boredom—you might have very thoroughly and thoughtfully explored a topic that just isn’t interesting, or you might have explored a concept so many times that your users are no longer engaged in it. The first step is acknowledging that you have a reader boredom problem, but it isn’t always straightforward.

    These five signs can help you establish whether or not your readers are bored with your material:

    Sign One: You Don’t Get Comments or Positive Feedback

    articleimage1784 sign one

    Depending on the popularity of your blog, an occasional post with no comments and no other visible signs of traction isn’t anything to be concerned about. However, if you feature several posts in a row, none of which have any comments onsite or on social media, you might have a problem. Comments are a positive sign of engagement; even though only a small percentage of readers ever leave comments, if those vocal readers aren’t moved enough to respond, it could reflect on the overall interest level of your readership.

    Sign Two: You Get No Shares or Links

    articleimage1784 sign two

    Shares and links are more than just valuable assets for an SEO campaign; they’re indicators of how well your content is performing. If your pieces consistently get no shares and no links, it means you aren’t doing enough to captivate your audience. You have to make your content important, interesting, and valuable—all at once—or else your readers will be bored and unwilling to take meaningful action.

    Sign Three: Your Statistics Are Flat

    articleimage1784 sign three

    As a content marketer, you should be checking Google Analytics (or whatever other analytics tools you’ve adopted) as a pulse for the health of your strategy. Here, you’ll be able to see which of your posts are performing well, which ones are faltering, and overall trends for your campaign. Compare your last several dozen posts to one another. Are there spikes and valleys? This is natural, and a good indication that at least some of your content is exceptional. If your statistics are suspiciously consistent—flatlining across the board, regardless of volume—it means readers are generally unmoved by your content.

    Sign Four: Your Social Followers Have Declined

    articleimage1784 sign four

    It’s usually a bad idea to gauge the health of any marketing campaign, including social media marketing, by the sheer number of followers you have. This is because a single number can’t tell you things like interest level, loyalty, or demographics. However, if you notice your social media followers are declining any time after integrating your social and content marketing campaigns, take it as a bad omen. Your followers don’t like what they see, and it’s your job to change it.

    Sign Five: You Can’t Remember the Last Time You Were Excited About Your Content

    Finally, think about your own interest level. Are you excited about your newest topics and initiatives? Are you genuinely engaged and interested in it when you’re writing it? If you aren’t interested in your own content, how could you expect your readers to be?

    Easy Fixes

    You didn’t think I’d leave you hanging, did you? I went through all the trouble of letting you know whether your content was boring—now I’ll teach you how to fix it. You could start by tearing down your strategy and rebuilding from scratch, but first, I’d recommend trying these easy adjustments to return your content to its former glory (or reenergize a bored audience):

    • Try a new medium. This is a pivotal one. Include more images and videos if you’re used to doing written-only content; you can even embed them in your written posts to make it easier on yourself.
    • Target a different audience segment. Are you used to writing only to one type of customer? Try a different angle, or a new audience segment altogether. You’ll inject some fresh blood into your campaign and force yourself to think more abstractly about your work.
    • Expand your subjects for more variety. Don’t limit yourself. Look at your competitors and other industry publications—what kinds of posts are getting more traction? Don’t be afraid to experiment.
    • Write more conversationally. Adopting a cold, professional, business-like voice will only alienate your readers. Loosen up, and write in your natural voice.
    • Including something surprising in every post. If your users aren’t surprised, they’ll feel cheated—like they never needed to read your piece in the first place.
    • Be controversial. Be careful with this one, as you don’t want to polarize your fans, but don’t be afraid to take a strong side. It shows conviction, and is far more interesting than fence-sitting.

    If you find your content really is boring your readers, these fixes should be a good solution to the problem—at least in the short term. The truth is, reader boredom is usually a recurring issue, and even the best content marketing brands sometimes suffer from it. You can’t always prevent it or predict it, but you can always respond to it, so stay on your toes and make the best effort possible to keep your readers engaged.

  4. 5 Types of Research You Must Conduct for a Successful Marketing Campaign

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    Good marketing campaigns are built on a foundation of research. The more you understand about your business, your industry, your target demographics, and the resources available to you, the more effective your messaging will become. Unfortunately, “research” is an ambiguous, general term. Telling someone to “research” to make their marketing campaign better will rarely point them in any meaningful direction, unless they already have an idea what they need to do to be effective.

    The truth is, there are many different kinds of research, most of which are helpful, and some of which demand more investment and intensity than others. If you’re trying to make your marketing campaign as successful as possible, you’ll need to apply these five types of research, at a minimum:

    1. Market Research.

    articleimage1781 Market Research

    I’ll start with one of the more obvious routes of research—your demographics. Market research is a well-known type of research, and is practiced, at least to some degree, by most businesses. Your original business plan and business model should be based on market research, but you’ll need to continue pressing for more information as your business develops to refine your expectations and respond to any trend and interest changes as they arise.

    There are a few ways to do market research. One of the easiest is partnering with a market research firm, or relying on preexisting outside data (like census information) to inform your conclusions. You could also conduct primary forms of research here, using surveys and other qualitative assessments to learn more about your target audience. The main goal is to simply learn more about who’s buying your products and services—who they are, what’s important to them, and what they mean to your business.

    2. Competitive Research.

    articleimage1781 Competitive Research

    Competitive research is all about knowing who you’re up against. No matter how original your idea is, you won’t be the only offer in town—at least not for long. Competitive research allows you to see what strategies your competitors are using, and how effective those strategies are at attracting your shared target audience. For example, are they producing more or less content than you are? How is it different?

    There are two big things to watch for here: what are they offering that you aren’t, and what aren’t they offering that you can? The former will allow you to close a potential gap between the two of you, outperforming them in a new area with a new direction. The latter is a critical opportunity for your business to break away.

    3. Channel-Specific Research.

    articleimage1781 Channel-Specific Research

    As the name suggests, channel-specific research is intended to help you better understand specific marketing channels that you could use in a campaign (or new tactics that improve your results and/or efficiency). Here, you’ll mostly rely on preexisting research conducted by other parties, unless you’re willing to pay for an experimental venture into a new kind of marketing.

    Online research is your friend here; rely on marketing agencies and independent case studies of marketing success to inform your decisions. Look for any new outlets that you might not have considered, as well as older outlets that you could be using more effectively. Remain open to any new strategies, and always be willing to conduct more research—in this digital age, new outlets emerge all the time.

    4. Original Research.

    articleimage1781 Original Research

    Original research takes a lot of different forms, depending on your industry and the needs of your target audience. Its primary goal is to give your audience valuable information as an objective offer in exchange for something else. For example, you could use your original research to write and post an article designed to attract new people to your site, or develop your original research into an eBook that you give away in exchange for a few bits of personal information of individuals.

    The key to original research is that it must be original, so you can’t rely on secondary sources for this one. You can conduct surveys, collect quantitative data based on objective facts, or even rely on your own observations. The more valuable your information is to your users, the better.

    5. Performance Research.

    articleimage1781 Performance Research

    Finally, you’ll have to research how you’re performing in comparison to your competitors and in a way that highlights potential areas for improvement. In a sense, you’ll be researching yourself, which sounds easy—but drawing new conclusions when you’re so close to your business can be difficult.

    Rely on a series of tools and/or agencies to help you understand key points of information on your performance, such as inbound traffic, user engagement, or online conversions. With each improvement or change, you’ll monitor these metrics closely, and ideally, they’ll grow over time. Performance research is hard to penetrate at first, as you’ll be drawing somewhat subjective conclusions about objective data, but you’ll get better at it the more you do it.

    The great thing about these types of research is their sheer utility—they can be applied to almost any marketing campaign you can imagine. Online, traditional, and alternative marketing directives all benefit from this additional information, leading to better messaging, and of course, better results. Like with any new skill, you may struggle when you first attempt more in-depth research, but the more you practice it, and the more you learn best practices for success, the more efficient you’ll become, and the more meaningful data you’ll be able to extract. It all starts with a commitment to learning more about your business environment.

  5. The 7 Most Common Ways Webmasters Botch On-site SEO

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    Webmasters have a ton of responsibilities, so it’s incredibly rare to find one capable of performing his job perfectly. There’s no such thing as a perfect website (as you’ve undoubtedly experienced), and even if there was, only the most astute and experienced webmasters would be capable of achieving it. Most of us are entrepreneurs, or designers, or marketers who may excel in some functions but are invariably weak in others.

    In some organizations, the role of onsite SEO falls to webmasters exclusively, and even when it doesn’t, it’s usually the webmaster’s responsibility to handle the architectural structures and changes necessary to help a site rank. They’re hard to detect, so they’re easy to miss, and if you operate under the assumption that you’re doing everything right, you could wind up sabotaging your ranks without ever knowing it.

    These are some of the most common ways people have done it:

    1. Extended or Nonsensical URLs.

    articleimage1773 Extended or Nonsensical URL

    Take a look at the URLs of your web pages. What do they look like? At the end of the breadcrumbs trail, is there a sensible, descriptive phrase like “learn-seo-today” or a long string of incomprehensible numbers and punctuation marks? If it’s the latter, you’re in trouble. Google uses URLs as part of its understanding of the nature and intention of your pages. This is a critical opportunity to include a strong keyword, and help Google understand the underlying structure of your website. Besides, those long trails of confusing numbers are unflattering from a user experience perspective. Every page of your site should be referred to appropriately in your URLs.

    2. Forgetting Robots.txt.

    articleimage1773 Forgetting Robots

    The robots.txt file is an important inclusion in the back end of your site that lets Google know how it should crawl your site. Without that instruction manual, Google will treat your site as default, which isn’t usually a good thing. Robots.txt will allow you to instruct Google to crawl or not crawl specific sections and pages within your site, giving you more control over how your site is seen in search engines. When creating and uploading your file, be sure to double check it—you’d be surprised how common it is to accidentally block a solid page from being indexed by mistake.

    3. Neglecting the XML Sitemap.

    articleimage1773 Neglecting the XML Sitemap

    Your XML sitemap is another file that helps Google understand your site, though in less specific terms. If robots.txt is your instruction manual for Google’s web crawlers, then your XML sitemap is, well, the map. It tells Google how your site is structured, what pages exist, and how your site is broken down. This can help Google direct users to the most relevant pages within your site, and possibly break down the hierarchy of your pages for them. Forgetting or failing to update your sitemap won’t kill you, since Google’s pretty good at drawing its own conclusions, but it’s a simple fix you shouldn’t neglect.

    4. Allowing Thin Content.

    articleimage1773 Allowing Thin Content

    Technically, it’s your writer’s job to come up with the content, but it’s your job to build the sitemap. Part of that job means deciding which pages are necessary and relevant for your users, and eliminating anything that isn’t. If one (or more) of your pages are stuffed with fluff content (and your writer can’t do anything else with them), it means that page probably doesn’t need to be on your site. Nip thin content in the bud by structuring your site minimalistically and as effectively as possible.

    5. Duplicating Meta Titles and Descriptions.

    articleimage1773 Duplicating Meta Titles and Descriptions

    Your meta titles and descriptions help Google understand the intent of your pages, and dictate the appearance of your content in SERPs. You’ve probably got them all filled out, and maybe you’ve even used a tool to help you create them, but are all of them unique? Duplicate meta titles and descriptions don’t save you time—they’re redundant, and they waste your potential. Be sure to write an appropriate, unique entry for each of your pages.

    6. Duplicating Indexed Content.

    Duplicate onsite content has little to do with plagiarism (in most cases). Instead, it has to do with how Google scans and indexes your website. If a page is mistakenly indexed twice (such as once with a http:// prefix and once with a https:// prefix), it could register as duplicate content. You can generate a list of such instances using Google Webmaster Tools; be sure to eliminate them with proper canonicalization or through 301 redirects.

    7. Failing to Include Microformatting.

    Google loves to use rich answers—the bits of information you sometimes see immediately in search results, above and apart from traditional SERP entries. Rich answers are growing in prominence and importance, but Google relies on others to get the job done. Microformatting is a backend markup that feeds Google this information in digestible chunks, establishing a universal language that all webmasters and bots can follow. If you aren’t using it, you’re missing out on some serious potential search visibility (and leaving your users with less information, accordingly).

    Being proactive is the greatest quality anyone in the SEO industry can have; problems are natural, often inevitable, and they’ll creep up on you even when you feel like everything else is going right. The only way to catch them is to actively seek them out and correct them before they do too much damage. Don’t lose your mind trying to make everything perfect, but don’t rest on your laurels either—run routine checks to ensure your onsite SEO starts and remains in good health.

  6. The 5 Phases of Building a Better Conversion Strategy

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    Few marketing subjects are as discussed as conversion optimization. There are two main reasons for this, and the first is somewhat obvious: conversions are important. They’re what translate your traffic and visitors into paying customers who provide revenue to your business. The second reason is that despite this level of importance, conversions aren’t an exact science. There’s no magic formula for achieving a perfect conversion rate, and there’s often conflicting evidence about what works and what doesn’t.

    So if there’s no set of effective conversion optimization tactics beyond the basic best practices, isn’t conversion optimization just guesswork? Yes and no. There are certain identifiable areas, or phases, of improvement that you’ll need to go through, but the specifics are a bit harder to direct. This is mostly due to the vast number of different industries, brands, and demographics out there—a compelling headline for one set of circumstances might fall flat for another.

    With that in mind, I can tell you the five key phases of conversion optimization you’ll need to go through:

    1. Including more (and more relevant calls to action).

    articleimage1772 Including more

    This should be a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people miss it. Include more calls to action throughout your site, and make them more prominent and more relevant for your readers. For example, if you’re attracting email signups, consider offering a signup box on the side or at the bottom of each of your pages. Consider including a specific callout in your blog posts occasionally. Consider creating a landing page for it, or even a mild popup requesting enrollment.

    The trick here is not to go overboard. You want your CTAs to be seen, but there’s a fine line between “prominent” and “annoying.” Ditch the flashing lights, exclamation points, and other gimmicks, and focus on making your CTAs balanced.

    2. Presenting a better offer.

    articleimage1772 Presenting a better offer

    You may think of your conversion as one-sided (your customers giving you something, like money or their information), but it’s actually an exchange. People are giving you something in return for something else, and if you want to maximize the number of times that exchange is committed, you have to maximize the value of that exchange for your users. That means presenting a better deal.

    There are two ways to do this. The first is easy, but less rewarding: offer something objectively better, like an eBook instead of a whitepaper, or a two-pack instead of a single item. The second is trickier: take what you already have and present it in a more compelling way. This includes showing more visuals of the offer, displaying more reviews and testimonials, optimizing your headline copy, and listing better benefits. You can even add a sense of urgency to make your offer more immediately compelling.

    3. Simplifying the process.

    articleimage1772 Simplifying the process

    All users crave simplicity. The moment they feel inconvenienced or confused, they’re going to abandon you. Prevent this by making the process as simple as possible. There are several ways to do this.

    First, reduce the number of fields you request. Only ask for the most pertinent, necessary information—the rest is just a hassle. Second, make the process literally fast by reducing loading times, improving checkout speeds, and otherwise concluding the transaction as quickly as possible. Third, accept as many alternative payment methods as possible and offer flexible terms for those with unusual needs or requests. It’s also helpful to include a phone number or live chat box, to immediately help anyone who might be having trouble with the process (it also demonstrates trustworthiness).

    4. Optimizing the audience.

    articleimage1772 Optimizing the audience

    With all these factors in place, your next job should be optimizing the audience. When you first start out, it’s natural to opt for quantity; after all, more visitors means more chances to convert and more revenue flowing in, right?

    This isn’t necessarily the case. Extra visitors won’t do much harm to your strategy, but your efforts are better spent pursuing visitors who already have a predisposition to convert. You can maximize your chances of attracting these types by producing and syndicating content tailored toward your target demographics late in the buy cycle, and by funneling users to targeted landing pages based on known interests or previous habits.

    5. Ongoing testing and development.

    articleimage1772 Ongoing testing and development

    The final phase is the most important, and it should be used as a means of revisiting each former phase. Here, your responsibility is to experiment. Try something new, such as a headline, a new button, a new offer, a new target audience, and so on—it doesn’t matter, as long as it has the potential to bring more conversions. Put it to the test; if it succeeds, keep it. If it fails, toss it. Only through this process will you be able to improve your conversion rate on a consistent and recurring basis.

    With the exception of the fifth and most important phase, all these phases are mere starting points. I’ve given you the details about why they’re important, how you can learn from them, and some pointers on how to be effective, but without foreknowledge of your specific business and customers, I can’t make any concrete recommendations that are guaranteed to work. The flip side is, if you pay attention to all these areas, commit yourself to making gradual tweaks and improvements over time, and always work with your audience in mind, I can guarantee you some level of success.

  7. 7 Long-Term Strategies to Improve Your Brand Reputation Online

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    articleimage1775 7 Long-Term Strategies to Improve Your Brand Reputation Online

    Don’t underestimate the power of a brand reputation. It may seem like a less tangible metric than something like inbound traffic or even raw social media followers, but less measurable doesn’t necessarily mean less important. Your brand reputation affects whether people click on your links when you syndicate them, whether they trust you enough to buy your product, and whether they love you enough to tell their friends about you. There are dozens of levels of consumer brand trust, and each one provides an important (yet hard-to-measure) benefit, so even a small increase in brand reputation can make a big impact on your bottom line.

    The trouble is, brand reputation takes time and effort to build. You’ll have to adopt these seven strategies, at a minimum, to develop that reputation over the long term:

    1. Earn Attention With Original Research.

    This should be part of your content marketing strategy already; if it’s not, you’ve got some work to do. You may already be writing “good” content (answering user questions, striving for originality, utilizing multiple mediums, etc.), but original research is the fastest way to build a reputation. By its nature, it’s original and valuable, and if you syndicate it properly, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to generate tons of new inbound links. People will recognize you as an authority just by virtue of your research, plus you’ll get lots of domain authority from those links, propelling you forward in search rankings and increasing your visibility further.

    2. Publish on Lots of Channels.

    articleimage1775 Publish on Lots of Channels

    Rather than putting all of your work on your own site or a small selection of outside sources, publish to as many outside sources as possible (as long as they’re somewhat relevant for your brand). This will greatly increase your visibility and expose you to new readers who might have previously been unfamiliar with your brand. This will also lend you a compounding effect; the more people see your brand the more authority they’ll imbue you with and the more familiar they’ll become with your work. The diverse range of backlinks you earn is an added bonus.

    3. Engage With Individuals.

    articleimage1775 Engage With Individuals

    When you’re working on a mass marketing strategy, engaging with people on an individual level may seem time consuming or nitpicky, but it’s well worth the effort. When you receive comments on blog posts, messages, new followers, or any other form of engagement, go out of your way to respond. Talk to individual people, and avoid using canned or clichéd messages—speak from the heart. This will sharply increase the loyalty of those lone audience members, and more importantly demonstrate your personable nature to others who may be seeing your public interactions. There is no downside here.

    4. Network With Influencers.

    articleimage1775 Network With Influencers

    If you want to boost your reputation, one of the best ways is to leverage the reputation of someone who’s already built one. These are called “influencers,” high-profile authorities with notoriety, respect, lots of followers, and a connection to your industry. How you network with them is up to you—you can exchange guest blog posts, have public chats about various industry topics, or even host interviews with each other. It’s an opportunity for mutual exposure, and you’ll find your audience size and loyalty increasing with each engagement.

    5. Address Requests and Complaints.

    articleimage1775 Address Requests and Complaints

    Encourage your users to be vocal, and respond to their feedback with meaningful action. For example, if one of your users asks for a follow-up to one of your popular blog posts, write one. If a user complains that there’s a mobile issue with your website, fix it—or at least look into it. The obvious benefit here is that it shows you care and increases the loyalty of those making the requests and complaints, but it also proactively fixes issues the rest of your audience might be holding back from you.

    6. Optimize Your Reviews.

    Take time every week to scout the reviews of your brand and individual products. This means checking your own pages for user-submitted reviews (assuming you have a review function) as well as looking at third party directory pages. Follow up on positive reviews, and use them to learn what you’re doing right. Try to make up for and apologize for negative reviews, and use them to learn what you can improve. Doing this will gradually improve your reputation, and might even give you a boost in local SEO.

    7. Encourage Customer-Submitted Content.

    People trust other people more than they trust organizations or brands, so encourage your users to submit as much content as they can. This includes reviews, testimonials, critiques, responses, and even media submitted as part of a contest. If a person sees lots of other people engaging with and participating in your brand, they’ll think more highly of you. Diversify your strategy here by encouraging different types of content across different initiatives.

    It will be hard to measure any change in your overall brand reputation, especially as factors like traffic and conversions grow alongside it, but pay attention to key indicators. Conduct a survey on people’s opinions on your brand. Pay attention to the types of reviews you receive. Have a conversation with your best clients. Use social listening and observe users’ interactions with you. You’ll find an objective improvement in the span of mere months—and you can only keep growing from there.

  8. 3 Off-site Strategies That Can Improve Your Conversion Rates

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    You know how important your conversion rate is. With a consistent rate of traffic and all other factors being equal, a bigger conversion rate means more revenue, and because most “conversion optimization” techniques are the result of single efforts, it’s easy to ratchet up your conversion rate without much ongoing investment.

    There’s one limiting factor holding back conversion rates from being infinitely inflatable, however: there’s a finite number of onsite changes you can make before you start running out of ideas or grasping at straws. Making your call-to-action (CTA) more prominent and making the conversion process easier will greatly increase your conversion rate, but once you’ve burned up all the standard best practices, all you’re left with are experimental changes like button colors and wording tweaks, which can only increase your conversion rate by small degrees.

    My solution to this is to look outward, rather than inward. Instead of hunting down every last onsite strategy useful for increasing conversion rates, start looking offsite. In particular, there are three offsite strategies I’ve known to be useful in maximizing your onsite conversion rate:

    1. Work on Your Reputation.

    articleimage1759 Work on Your Reputation

    The first strategy might be the most obvious, but it’s one that often goes neglected by busy business owners focusing on bottom-line revenues. Your brand’s online reputation is hard to accurately or objectively measure; you might use your number of social followers or your search ranking to get an indirect idea of how well you’re faring against the competition, but brand recognition and brand trust are more subjective factors, not tied to any one metric.

    The more users recognize and trust your brand, the more likely they’ll be to convert. Whether you’re selling a funny T-shirt or enticing email subscribers with a free eBook, if a user encounters your CTA and thinks “oh, I know these guys!,” he/she will be far more likely to pull the trigger. The way to build this trust and name recognition is through ongoing relationship management offsite.

    There are a few ways to do this. First, work on making your social media profiles more prominent and more active, and don’t be afraid to reach out to new people (especially influencers). The more active you are on social media, the more people will learn to recognize you. Second, get your material published in higher circles. If you’re already published in local news outlets or niche industry forums, strive for something more national and visible to the average consumer. The more publication outlets you have under your belt, the more your name will come up (and the more trustworthy your brand will seem when it comes time to make a purchasing decision).

    2. Pre-Qualify Your Leads.

    articleimage1759 Pre-Qualify Your Leads

    Next, work on pre-qualifying your leads. This is the process of filtering out any inbound traffic that doesn’t have any chance of buying from you in favor of traffic that does. As you might suspect, there are a number of ways to do this, and most of them start offsite. One caveat to this: as you start filtering out irrelevant traffic, you’ll notice your traffic figures start to decline. As long as your conversion rates correspondingly increase, it shouldn’t concern you.

    One of the easiest ways to pre-qualify leads is through highly targeted content. Whether you’re distributing your material through multiple external publishers or just syndicating your stuff on social media, put an extra emphasis on content that can only appeal to people late in the buying cycle, or those actually willing to buy from you. For example, if you sell bike tires, articles like “What’s the best bike tire for mountain bikes?” is much more targeted to interested buyers than articles like “How to prepare a mountain bike for spring.”

    You can also pre-qualify leads by segmenting your audiences on social media. On LinkedIn, this could mean getting involved with specific Groups more than others. On Twitter, this could mean creating custom lists based on your follower demographics. On Facebook, this could mean utilizing geo-targeting. How you pre-qualify your leads is up to you; what’s important is the increased relevance of your inbound traffic.

    3. Optimize Your Calls for Traffic.

    articleimage1759 Optimize Your Calls for Traffic

    This is a strategy related to point two, since it involves increasing the relevance of your inbound audience. But rather than filtering out uninterested segments of your target audience, this strategy is all about increasing the trust and interest level of your existing followers.

    Post a diversity of different calls for traffic, including discount offers, different types of content, sales, and links to internal pages, then analyze the behavior patterns of traffic coming to your site from each type of post. Think of this as an AB test that occurs before your users are ever exposed to a CTA, with your CTA being consistent in both rounds. Eventually, you should notice a pattern of more users converting after coming to your site from specific types of posted content. Increase the prevalence of this type of content on your social circuits, and you should see a correspondingly higher conversion rate.

    These offsite strategies, when working in conjunction with proper onsite conversion optimization, can take your conversion rate to new heights. As with any conversion optimization strategy, data is your best friend here, so try out these strategies independently against a control group before you make a final determination of what’s effective and what’s not. Eventually, you’ll find the right combination of tactics for your business to maximize its lead and sales pipeline.

  9. The 5 Most Important Brand Awareness Factors to Watch

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    When it comes to online marketing, some factors are concrete. There’s no questioning how many conversions you’ve gotten. There’s no questioning how much traffic you’ve earned through search engines. These are objective figures that aren’t up for debate, and because of that, marketers like me love them. They can prove our efforts are worthwhile, and objectively record whether there are any improvements that need to be made.

    Other factors are more slippery—they’re subjective, open to interpretation, and difficult to measure in any tangible way. What’s worse is that these factors are just as important to your bottom line as trackable metrics like traffic or conversions. Take brand awareness, for example; the number of people who can recognize and identify your brand is important. Those aware of your brand have a higher likelihood of buying from you, whether it’s out of the blue or in response to one of your advertisements.

    It’s one of the less trackable benefits of content marketing. You can measure how many people come to your site after reading your content, or how much your search rankings have improved, but how do you go about measuring the general awareness of your key demographics? Unfortunately, there’s no one easy, reliable way to measure this (other than massive-scale surveys), and no matter what you do, there’s bound to be degrees of uncertainty and subjectivity.

    Still, if you focus in on the following five factors, you can get a better read on where your brand awareness stands:

    1. Social Followers.

    articleimage1744 Social Followers

    If you’ve read some of my other content on social media marketing, you might be surprised to see this here. I’m a staunch proponent of the idea that social media followers is a “fluff metric” that can distract you from more important measures. I stand by this; focusing only on social media followers, instead of things like interactions, shares, and comments, can leave you with a big audience who doesn’t care about your brand. However, brand awareness specifically doesn’t necessitate a value of quality—it’s more a measure of how many people are aware of your brand, and how many new people are attracted to it. For these purposes, follower counts can work well—every new follower you attract is a little bit further your brand awareness reaches (unless you’re buying followers, in which case nothing can help you).

    2. Direct Traffic.

    articleimage1744 Direct Traffic

    Organic traffic measures visitors who found you through search. Social traffic measures traffic from social followers. Referral traffic measures those who followed links. In all of these cases, it’s possible for new users to stumble across your work (and why inbound strategies are so effective at generating new audiences). But for brand awareness, it’s better to measure direct traffic—the number of people going to your site directly, either through a bookmark or a direct URL entry. In each of these cases, the visitor in question has heard of your brand previously. Accordingly, you can use it as an indirect measure of general brand awareness.

    3. Offsite Mentions.

    articleimage1744 Offsite Mentions

    This is difficult to measure comprehensively, but you can get an overall understanding for where you stand in the market by analyzing your offsite mentions. Use social listening software, backlink searches, or just Google your own brand name to see what others are saying about you—without your interference. Look for mentions of your brand, links to your site, and other indicators from both consumers and publishers unrelated to any of your marketing strategies. How many are there? How high-profile are they? Are they positive or negative?

    4. Engagement.

    articleimage1744 Engagement

    Engagement is an indirect measure of brand awareness, since technically followers and readers who engage with you could be learning about you for the first time. However, interaction is an indication that you’ve truly connected with an audience member. If that member hasn’t heard of you before, he/she will remember you now. Members who have already heard of you will be more likely to comment on or share the articles you publish. These indicators are fuzzy, imprecise, and open to interpretation for how they relate to brand awareness, but engagement is a good factor to know for your marketing campaign anyway. Your goal should be to increase the number of people interacting with your brand—it can only do good things for your engagement.

    5. Reviews, Testimonials, and Referrals.

    articleimage1744 Reviews, Testimonials, and Referrals

    Measuring and tracking the number of reviews your business receives provides two benefits in understanding your brand awareness. First, it shows that the reviewer in question is intimately familiar with your brand. Second, it shows how existing audience members are spreading the awareness of your brand to others—referrals are some of the most powerful ways to attract new customers. Do your best to encourage more reviews and testimonials from your readers and customers, and do what you can to address and ameliorate negative reviews.

    Working together, the above metrics can give you a somewhat accurate picture of your brand awareness level—or at least a glimpse into your impact among your key demographics. Track these over an extended period of time, comparing month to month figures, to see if your awareness strategies are having a substantial impact. If you’re looking for a more concrete or objective measure of brand awareness, a survey is your best bet, but in order to be effective, you’ll have to work on a large scale with a true random sample.

  10. How to Make an Audience Fall in Love With Your Brand

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    The most powerful force in the marketing world isn’t creativity or deal offering (though those can be important and impactful). It’s relationships, on an individual customer level. If you take the time to build relationships with your customers, beyond the logical exchange of money for goods and services, they’ll become more loyal to you, purchase from you more, and spread the word about how good you are to do business with.

    Relationship building starts with a brand; your goal should be to make customers fall in love with your brand, more than the competition, and almost on a personal level. This isn’t easy, and it certainly can’t happen overnight, but if you apply the right strategies with a little patience, you should have no trouble commanding a loyal audience in due time:

    Be Consistent

    articleimage1745 Be Consistent

    Your first job is the most important—stay as consistent as possible in your brand standards. That means using the same colors, the same logo, and the same brand voice no matter what platform people are using or how many times they’ve been exposed to your brand in the past. The moment you break that consistency, consumers stop being able to identify your brand. Imagine if someone wanted to be your friend and claimed to like baseball, sporting a laid-back demeanor, but the next day he claimed to hate baseball and seemed excitable and chatty. You could potentially be friends with either of these personalities, but the inconsistency of switching between the two would drive you away. The same principle applies to branding.

    Provide Value

    articleimage1745 Provide Value

    This should go without saying for your business, but it’s necessary if you want your customers to ravenously adore your brand. Every product you sell (or every service interaction you offer) needs to speak volumes to a customer about your brand value. If you’re selling something tangible, your quality assurance needs to be top-notch. If something goes wrong with a piece of software, your support team needs to respond quickly and helpfully. One botched job or faulty product could immediately ruin a new customer’s first impression and compromise your ability to ever build a relationship with them.

    Address Your Customers Personally

    articleimage1745 Address Your Customers Personally

    The age of formulaic responses and automated messaging is over. Modern consumers have grown increasingly distrustful (and painfully aware) of the automated customer service and social messages that seem to populate every communication medium. Responding to every new message from a social media follower with “Hi! Thanks for your message. Please contact X at Y…” is going to make you seem distant and robotic. Sending an automated email will make people feel alienated. Instead, take the time to write out a personal response to every customer query you get; even if you only change a few words, your extra personal effort will show, and your customers will warm to you. This is especially important on a public medium, like Facebook or Twitter.

    Create Memorable Experiences

    articleimage1745 Create Memorable Experiences

    If you want people to come back to your brand over and over again, you need to give them a memorable experience. Value and consistency are good, but if you offer the same value as a competitor, and your “consistency” is plain and vanilla, nobody’s going to make an effort to get back to you. How you make the experience memorable is entirely up to you and your business model—it could be a brand mascot who walks your users through their first steps, or a cute thank-you note included with every order you ship. Do something different, and people will remember you.

    Encourage and Reward Repeat Visits

    Customer loyalty is hard to earn, but loyalty programs and other return-visit incentives make it a whole lot easier. Consider offering discounts, special offers, or better experiences to customers who visit you frequently. For example, you could give out “bonus points” to users based on how much they use your app, redeemable for real purchases or other in-app benefits. What you create is up to you; all that matters is that you make the idea of coming back rewarding and exciting.

    Reward Engagement

    articleimage1745 Reward Engagement

    It’s also a good idea to reward engagement. When someone comments on your article, comment back. When someone follows you, give them a shout-out. This has two distinct effects; first, the person engaging with you feels good about it, and will probably continue to engage you in the future. Second, spectators will see the exchange and think of you as a more personal, approachable brand.

    Listen to—and Incorporate—Feedback

    Finally, listen to the feedback your customers give you. Read both positive and negative reviews, and see what you can do to address their concerns, add their requested features, and follow through on their recommended adjustments. This will help you create a better business, and it shows your customers that you truly care about them.

    Customer loyalty is hard to measure, but you should see quantifiable increases in certain key metrics as you scale up your brand loyalty strategy. These include repeat purchases, social followings, email subscribers, and interactions with your brand onsite and in social media. You’ll also see more reviews, more recommendations, and other positive callouts on various external sources. Stay patient; just like building a human relationship, building a customer relationship takes time. But as long as you keep making adjustments and stay committed to your goals, your effort will inevitably pay off.

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-The AudienceBloom Team