AudienceBloom

CALL US:  1-877-545-GROW

Category Archive: Content Marketing

  1. Everything You Wanted to Know About Mobile Optimization

    Leave a Comment

    If you’ve been plugged into the online marketing community at any point in the past 10 years, you’ve likely heard the phrase “mobile optimization” thrown around. It’s a buzzword, but it’s a fundamentally important one, so I wanted to put together this comprehensive guide to explain exactly what mobile optimization is (and exactly what it isn’t), everything that it currently and could potentially entail, how to check to see if your site is mobile optimized, and what to do if it isn’t.

    There have been a number of misconceptions and half-truths circulating about mobile optimization, mostly as extremist responses to major announcements by tech companies like Google, and a panic that’s set in thanks to the rising trends of mobile use in most demographic segments. Fortunately, once you understand it, mobile optimization is relatively simple, and your site might already be in the clear. Still, there’s an ongoing component to mobile optimization—striving for a perfection that can never be reached—so there’s always more to learn about the process.

    What is mobile optimization?

    Here’s the simplest definition of mobile optimization you’re liable to find on the Internet: mobile optimization is changing your site to be as usable and convenient as possible for users on mobile devices. Ten years ago, mobile devices didn’t exist (or at least, weren’t popular), so most sites were designed specifically for desktop screens. Mobile screens, like those on smartphones, offer a handful of unique elements that desktop-designed sites can’t address:

    • Smaller screen sizes make it harder to view full-size pages, especially when it comes to viewing images and reading text.
    • Finger-based interactions make small, precision buttons on desktop sites hard to manage.
    • The diversity of devices available makes it hard to present an all-in-one solution.
    • Mobile browser compatibility is not universal, and not all types of code show up for all browsers.

    Mobile optimization strives to fix all these problems.

    Why optimize for mobile?

    You may be asking yourself what the benefits of mobile optimization are. After all, a good chunk of your user base is still accessing your site through desktop devices, and even those who aren’t can get most of the same experiences even on the un-optimized version of your site, right?

    Consider these benefits of mobile optimization before neglecting the strategy altogether:

    • SEO. Google (and other search engines) are staunch supporters of “ideal” mobile experiences. They want every site online to be “mobile friendly,” and they’re taking action to make it happen by penalizing sites that aren’t optimized for mobile and rewarding sites that are. Just by optimizing your site for mobile, you’ll earn higher positions in Google search results, resulting in more traffic to your site. In addition, you’ll earn a little badge next to your site’s name, telling users that your site is, indeed, mobile-friendly:

    mobile friendly website

    (Image Source: Google)

    • User experience. Some users are going to access your site through desktop, but the impressions mobile users get from a site are substantial. If a first-time visitor on a mobile device sees your content not loading properly or has a poor experience, he/she may not come back. Even loyal customers who don’t have a great mobile experience could leave you in favor of a competitor who can offer such an experience. Both your customer satisfaction and your brand reputation are on the line here.
    • Rising importance. These benefits are fantastic today, but what you really have to consider is their future value. Mobile devices and mobile web browsing are poised to surge dramatically over the course of the next several years. The longer you wait, the more benefits you’ll miss out on, and the worse position you’ll be in for the coming years.

    Let’s take a look at the factors shaping mobile user experiences, and how they relate to mobile optimization overall.

    The Mobile Landscape

    We’re in the middle of an era that revolves around mobile experiences, and it’s not going away anytime soon.

    Rising trends in mobile use

    It was May of 2015 when Google announced that mobile searches had overtaken desktop searches for the first time ever. Now, we’re on an ever-accelerating upward trajectory, with mobile use still growing and desktop use starting to look more and more obsolete.

    mobile usage

    (Image Source: SmartInsights/ComScore)

    Why the steep growth? Mobile Internet access used to be nothing more than a novelty, to be used in rare circumstances by a fraction of the population. Coverage was limited, speeds were egregiously slow, devices were clumsy, and smartphones were only in the hands of the super tech-savvy. But slowly, tech giants have favored mobile use with innovative features like better touchscreens, voice-activated search, faster Internet, and better geographic positioning. Collectively, these improvements have led more users to rely on mobile devices, which in turn has prompted more tech companies to invest in mobile technology. It’s a self-perpetuating and exponential cycle with no end in sight.

    Google’s response

    Google is one of these forerunners of mobile technology, and they’re one of the biggest influencers of this steep rising trend in mobile use. The company unveiled its Voice Search product back in 2002, and local search started developing even before that, but they’ve been two major areas of development in the past decade. Voice search has become more intuitive, local search has been integrated with mobile, and most importantly, Google started giving ranking advantages to sites that ranked well on mobile devices. For a while, this was somewhat informal and unspoken, but back in April of last year, it took a massive leap forward.

    Mobilegeddon v. 1.0

    Announcing the update nearly two months in advance, Google proactively warned webmasters that on April 21, it would be launching a massive update to reward sites that had been properly optimized for mobile and penalize those that had not. This was a rare move for the company, as most of its search algorithm updates came as undocumented, unannounced surprises that the rest of us optimizers had to scramble to try and crack. Now, Google heads were telling us exactly what to expect—more or less.

    The search community went on a rampage, donning the coming update as “mobilegeddon,” and using it as an opportunity to wrangle up business from webmasters who hadn’t yet updated their sites for mobile devices, or how exactly to go about it. Some insisted that this reaction was overblown, and to a degree it was, but the impact of “mobilegeddon” was still significant.

    desktop vs mobile

    (Image Source: SearchEngineLand)

    It’s not impossible for non-mobile-friendly sites to rank today, and desktop searches weren’t hit as hard as mobile searches, but it’s still a significant difference to note. Without a mobile-friendly site, your SEO potential is seriously compromised—and that update is here to stay.

    Another Mobilegeddon?

    In fact, there’s some evidence to suggest that Google may be planning another mobilegeddon-style update, to serve as an expansion to the first one. We don’t have a lot of details about this new update, other than the fact that it’s coming out in May of this year, but it’s speculated that this will serve to “boost” the original ranking signals heralded in by mobilegeddon version 1.0. Google has announced that webmasters of existing sites that are optimized for mobile will need to make no further changes to their sites.

    The Bottom Line

    What’s the key takeaway here? Mobile-friendly sites are a necessity if you want to remain visible and preserve your brand’s reputation in the modern era. Mobile trends aren’t going away, and if your site isn’t optimized for mobile yet, you’re actively losing traffic and user engagement.

    Guidelines for Mobile Optimization

    Now that the “mobile landscape” is out of the way and you have a good idea what you can expect from mobile optimization, let’s dig into the details of exactly what mobile optimization entails. These are mostly a series of onsite changes that you can implement to make your site appear and perform better on mobile and alternative devices, but there are many options when it comes to implementation and of course, testing.

    The Basics

    Let’s start with the basics. These are hallmarks of mobile optimization that you can’t ignore, and following all of them will put you in pretty good shape to be qualified as “mobile-friendly:”

    • Don’t block CSS, images, or JavaScript. These are all coding elements or types of content that you may be tempted to block from Google search crawlers, or otherwise disable for your users, to ensure a good mobile experience. You need to keep all these elements present and available to Googlebot (as well as other search crawlers) or you’ll run into indexation problems. All the mobile optimizing and high-quality content in the world won’t do you much good if Google isn’t indexing your site in the first place.
    • Ensure all your images and videos load properly. This is a crucial step, as most mobile browsers and devices function differently than desktop-based means of accessing content. You may find that on some mobile browsers, your content loads perfectly fine, but on others, all you see is a “file not found” or similar message. This is bad news, both for human visitors and for search crawlers, so if you discover one of these compatibility problems, you’re going to need to update your site. You’ll also want to make sure these images and videos are loading quickly, but that’s a separate bullet point altogether.
    • Make your text visible without zooming or scrolling. One of Google’s biggest concerns with mobile-friendliness is the convenience and navigability of your site. Design is important, but realistically, your text is the most important material on your site. If users have a hard time reading that text, your site isn’t doing its job, so to optimize your site for mobile, you need to ensure that all the text of your site is visible (i.e., readable) without the need for users to zoom or scroll horizontally. Take a look at this handy guide image Google created, illustrating how you can rearrange a site to better present your written information to mobile users:

    mobile responsive design

    (Image Source: Google)

    • Make buttons finger-clickable. No matter how much you love using your mobile device, you have to admit that the precision of an old-school computer mouse handily out-performs the clumsiness of your own fingers. When it comes to buttons, menus, dropdowns, choices, and other interactive elements, precision is notoriously difficult. If you want your site to be mobile-friendly, all those actionable elements need to be easily navigable with fingers. There’s no hard rule for this, such as the recommended size of a button, but you can generally rely on your best judgment. Test it and see how you’re able to fare with your own fingers—this is more intuitive than it is programmatic or mathematical.
    • Improve your page loading speed. Page loading time is a significant website factor, primarily for user experience but also for search ranking potential. Have you ever been to a webpage that takes longer than a second or two to load? It’s terrible. We should be ashamed of ourselves for our low attention spans, but it’s terrible. If your site takes too long to load, your users won’t even give you a chance, so keep your site as lean as possible by using the right image formats, reducing your multimedia sizes, clearing old drafts and meta data, and using a good caching plugin. The problem is compounded on mobile devices, since Internet speeds are usually much lower, so you’ll have to do double duty here.
    • Avoid Flash. Thanks in part to Apple’s crackdown on Flash compatibility in iPhone (and similar) devices, Flash is pretty much obsolete these days. Unless you have some niche function that literally can’t exist without Flash, or an already-dedicated user base, there’s no excuse to continue using it. It won’t load properly on mobile devices, and it’s only going to grow more archaic as the years roll on.
    • Avoid pop-ups. Some pop-ups can be valuable, such as prompts to sign up for an email newsletter, but as much as possible, you’ll want to disable these on mobile devices. Pop-ups are somewhat annoying on desktop devices, but on mobile devices, they’re even worse—not only is it harder to click them away with a finger, there’s also the likelihood that you’ll miss-press and end up loading a bulky page you didn’t intend. Don’t put your users through this experience unless you have to.

    Going Above and Beyond

    The above “best practices” are the basic ones you’ll need to comply with Google’s mobile standards and get your site seen as “mobile-friendly” by search engines. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean your mobile optimization journey is complete. Meeting the basic requirements will help you appeal to search engines, but you also have to bear your users in mind. Yes, meeting the above thresholds will be valuable for users, but if you really want to sell the experience of your site, you’ll need to go above and beyond the line of duty:

    • Maximize loading speed. Don’t just strive for a slightly faster website—try to outdo all your competitors here. If you can get your page loading in a second or less, your users will notice the difference. If you have lots of images to show off, this can be difficult, but you can still strive for on-page minimalism. Keep your content lean and focused, and reduce your image sizes as much as possible without sacrificing the quality. Get rid of any plugins on your backend that you aren’t currently using, and make sure your caching plugin settings are optimized for page performance.
    • Design specifically for mobile experiences. There’s a difference between taking an existing website and shoehorning it into decent mobile experiences, and designing specifically for mobile experiences. Unless you’ve done the research to prove that your target audience still uses mostly desktop devices (and plans to stay there indefinitely), it’s a good idea to redesign your website from the ground-up for your mobile audience. That means arranging all your content vertically, redesigning interactive functions to appeal to small touch screens, and visualizing your site completely differently. If you use an eCommerce platform, this will similarly need updating—there are many user interactions here, and mobile user interactions can make or break the experience.
    • Test and evaluate differences in user behavior to improve. Don’t just assume that your changes will be valuable to mobile users; you can use a degree of intuition to help guide your creativity and reaffirm the benefits of your changes once they’re actually applied, but don’t neglect the follow-up of measuring your user behavior. How are your users interacting with your site? Are they engaging the way you thought they would? Can you strive for something even better? Don’t be afraid to make iterative tweaks here, gradually building up your overall mobile performance.

    Implementation

    Aside from smaller factors like optimizing your images, there are three main ways you can implement broad mobile changes to your website:

    • Responsive design. The first, and most important, is what’s known as “responsive design.” This is the method currently favored by Google, and it’s one of the easiest to implement. It also gives you the most flexibility of any of the three options, and is the easiest to troubleshoot if something goes wrong.

    Essentially, the idea here is to code your site to automatically detect the size of the screen viewing it and adapt its material accordingly. For example, you might have a desktop layout like the one on the left in the diagram below, but when a user tries to access the same site on a mobile device, the site with “sense” it, and rearrange its components to be viewed conveniently.

    responsive design

    (Image Source: Google)

    This may seem space-aged or incredibly difficult to incorporate, but the reality is, there are many responsive options available these days. In fact, if you have a WordPress site, or use any popular CMS, you can easily find a free responsive template on which to build your site. It’s super popular for a reason.

    • Dynamic serving. In dynamic serving, you’ll essentially be creating multiple versions of your site in the backend code. Here, you’ll be able to control—with precision—the differences between how your site shows up on desktop devices versus mobile devices. Though the backend coding is going to be different, your URLs are going to be the same; your server will determine what type of device is being used to access your URL, and will serve up the code that’s most appropriate.
    • Separate URLs. With separate URLs, you’ll also be creating a separate version of your site, only this time it’s going to be hosted on an entirely separate URL (usually some variation of your root domain, such as mobile.example.com).

    If you’re having trouble visualizing or comparing these methods against each other, here’s a handy chart that Google created to explain the differences:

    google chart respnosive design

    (Image Source: Google)

    There are some pros and cons to each method, but ultimately, responsive comes out on top in most scenarios:

    responsive design pros cons

    (Image Source: Moz)

    Other forms of mobile SEO

    When it comes to the search optimization element of mobile optimization, there isn’t much more to be seen. The basic standards of onsite and offsite optimization apply here, and of course you’ll need to come up with high-quality content on a regular basis, but there’s nothing else specifically for mobile devices that you’ll need to do on an ongoing basis.

    Testing

    Let’s say you’ve done everything I’ve outlined above—even the “above and beyond” stuff—and you’re confident that your site is sufficiently optimized for mobile. Just how confident are you? Are you willing to bank the visibility of your website on it?

    Even if you feel supremely confident, it’s important that you test your assumptions.

    Device Differences

    One of the biggest reasons to test yourself is because of the sheer diversity of devices that are currently out there. Each device has its own quirks, layout issues, and rendering issues, and if you want your site to be as mobile compliant as possible, you’ll have to adapt for all of them. Just because your site looks fine on your specific model of smartphone doesn’t mean it’s similarly rendering across the board.

    devices used to search

    (Image Source: SmartInsights)

    • Desktops/laptops. Desktop and laptop devices aren’t ones you’ll have to worry about—at least not generally. If your site is working properly on any other mobile device, it’s probably working just fine on desktops. Besides that, Google doesn’t care much about desktop optimization these days anyway.
    • Smartphones. Smartphones make up the biggest market share of mobile users, and are the biggest concern you should have when it comes to site performance. Android, iPhone, and Windows Phone devices all fall under this category.
    • Tablets. Tablets generally have screens bigger than a smartphone but smaller than a desktop device, and may be oriented vertically or horizontally. It’s good to know how your site will look in both orientations because of this.
    • Multimedia phones. Multimedia phones are ones that can “meet XHTML standards, support HTML5 Markup, JavaScript/ECMAscript but might not support some of the extension APIs in the HTML5 standard.” Generally, any 3G-compatible phone that isn’t a smartphone falls into this category.
    • Feature phones. Feature phones can’t render standard websites, and instead rely on things like cHTML (iMode), WML, and XHTML-MP.

    Conducting Your Tests

    Google is one your side. Google wants your site to be mobile-friendly. Accordingly, they’ve developed a handy online test you can use to determine whether or not your site passes their basic standards. Run your site through this test and Google will let you know exactly what—if any—errors or incompatibilities it finds. If you pass this test, you won’t have to worry about any irregularities in your search rank or visibility.

    mobile friendly test

    (Image Source: Google)

    Even if you pass Google’s standard test, it’s a good idea to run tests on your own devices, or through a service like MobileTest.me, which will allow you to “simulate” how your site appears on different browsers and devices. This is because even officially mobile-friendly sites can have visual hiccups or unpleasant factors in their design that compromise your intentions or show up differently than you expected. Use this stage of testing to weed those errors and fault points out.

    A Note on App SEO

    All of the insights I’ve shared thus far have been relegated to optimizing websites for mobile browsers, but there’s another form of user interaction on mobile devices you should be preparing your business for: apps. Apps have surged in popularity, just as mobile devices have, and there’s no sign that their growth has an end point. In fact, they’re responsible for much more mobile use than web browsers.

    time spent on mobile apps

    (Image Source: SmartInsights)

    To address this, Google’s been implementing a number of functions and updates for what’s becoming known as “app SEO,” including the basic presence of apps in search engines, app deep linking to take users to specific screens within apps downloaded on their devices, and even app streaming, which allows users to access apps they haven’t downloaded.

    It’s not entirely certain whether apps may one day replace traditional websites, but they are becoming more important and they’re presenting more opportunities for marketers. Keep a close eye on their development as you fine-tune your strategic approach for mobile users.

    Key Takeaways

    This has been a long and exhaustive guide, so if you’re looking for some key takeaways, these are the highlights you should walk away with:

    • Mobile optimization is a necessity. If you want to rank, or if you want to keep your users happy, or both, mobile optimization is an absolute necessity. Mobilegeddon made this so last year, and that update alone is growing in significance. You can’t run away from this.
    • Responsive design is Google’s solution of choice. If you’re currently using dynamic serving or separate URLs, you can manage just fine, but responsive design is Google’s optimization method of choice. If you’re just now optimizing your site for mobile, this is the way to go.
    • Testing can help you find and correct any issue. No matter what stage of optimization you’re in, utilizing tools like Google’s Mobile Friendly test can help you sniff out and troubleshoot any problem with the mobile rendering of your site. You don’t have to rely on your assumptions or instincts.
    • You’ll want more than just the basics. Meeting all of Google’s baseline requirements for mobile-friendly sites is a good start, and will ensure you aren’t penalized for not being mobile-friendly, but if you want to succeed from a user experience perspective, you’ll have to do more to make your site functional and convenient on mobile devices.

    Mobile is a segment poised for even more expansive growth in the coming decade. If you want your brand and your website to not just survive, but outlast the competition, you need to prioritize the experiences of your mobile audience.

  2. How to Use Landing Pages to Earn More Revenue

    Leave a Comment

    Every business could use more revenue; it’s why online marketing exists and remains so popular across a number of strategies and platforms. But there’s a tactic that many marketers aren’t using, and it’s a relatively simple one, at least conceptually. It has to do with landing pages, which exist as somewhat separate pages of your website. Depending on how you create, integrate, and monitor and adjust these “landing pages” in the context of your overall marketing strategies, you could stand to earn far more sales—and revenue for your business.

    This guide will introduce you to the concept of landing pages, how to implement them effectively, and best practices for securing long-term gains for your investment.

    What is a “landing page”?

    First, let’s define exactly what a “landing page” is. There are a variety of forms here, but the basic concept is simple. A landing page is a specifically dedicated page of your website tied to some means of attracting customers. Visitors from various channels, such as social media or paid advertising, will “land” on these pages after clicking a link, and be presented with an opportunity to engage. Usually, these engagements are tied to some kind of value, making the focal point of the landing page a conversion opportunity. Usually, these pages are left off the main navigation, as they serve a niche function and may not be relevant for your standard audience.

    For example, you could create a landing page for your social media audience, advertising an eBook you’ve recently written. You could use this eBook as an incentive for new email newsletter subscribers, funneling your followers to the form contained in your landing page and securing a number of successful conversions.

    Landing pages offer a number of advantages, which I’ll get into in the next main section, but first, let’s take a look at exactly why landing pages are one of the best tools you have to increase your bottom-line revenue.

    Revenue and conversions

    The goal here is to gain more conversions, but the type of conversion you seek is up to you. Your conversion could be tied to a direct means of achieving revenue—such as selling a specific product—or an indirect means—such as acquiring more signups for your email newsletter. Either way, your goal is to get users to interact with your page on some level, which will ultimately drive more revenue to your business.

    How can landing pages do this?

    Key Advantages of Landing Pages

    Landing pages give your campaign a number of distinct advantages, most of which revolve around the customizability of the strategy. You can create a number of different landing pages, running simultaneously or one at a time, for any and all inbound marketing campaigns you have in operation, and keep them separate from the rest of your website at the same time. In this section, we’ll explore these individual advantages, and some key opportunities for development.

    Better audience targeting

    First off, landing pages give you an enhanced ability to target your audience. Let’s say you have two demographic segments: you appeal to single, young adults as well as parents of young children. These are two distinct demographics, and you’ll likely use two different marketing methods to target them (such as newer social media platforms for young adults and paid advertising for parents). If you funnel them both to the same website, you’ll have to speak in generic terms, which could lower your relevance and overall engagement, but landing pages give you the ability to segment your audience according to their demographic makeup.

    This is perfectly illustrated by the pizza-related landing pages below. Look how one variant targets families specifically, while the other targets single eaters.

    pizza landing pages design

    (Image Source: WishPond)

    Better analytics

    Using landing pages can also help you get better data from your audience, in a number of different ways. First, you’re isolating your customers’ behavior to only one page; rather than tracking the complicated paths your users take throughout your website to convert, the process is a simple yes/no opportunity. Second, when you have multiple landing pages running at the same time, it’s easy to compare your data apples-to-apples. Take a look at this chart as an example:

    landing page analytics hubspot

    (Image Source: Hubspot)

    Finally, you have a better ability to track your performance over time, which is vital as you make adjustments to your marketing page (and your landing page as well—more on that in the next section).

    Just keep in mind that in order to reap the analytics benefits of a landing page, you need to be actively tracking and measuring this data. The simple installation of a Google Analytics script is likely enough to get you the information you need here, but double check your tracking proactively to make sure everything’s in order before your campaign goes live.

    AB tests and experimentation

    Due to their flexible nature and similar structure, you can easily use landing pages as AB tests and as platforms for experimentation. On a surface level, this makes it easier to analyze and improve your landing pages over time. For example, if you aren’t sure what type of layout to offer, you can set up two almost-identical landing pages with differences in layout, run them simultaneously for the same audience, and objectively determine which one is better. And since landing pages are relatively easy to create, you don’t even have to limit yourself to AB tests—you can do ABC or ABCDE if you have the resources for it.

    AB tests

    (Image Source: Hubspot/ComScore)

    Experimentation here will maximize your landing pages’ potential profitability, so use it often as a means of self-improvement. It’s hard to say exactly what factors will encourage more conversions, so tweak everything to see what works and what doesn’t.

    Short-term campaigns

    You don’t have to use landing pages only for destinations in your long-term inbound marketing campaigns. In fact, they have a distinct advantage when used as measures for short-term stints, such as temporary promotions or seasonal items.

    For example, let’s say you’re featuring a sale on one of your top items, or that you have a new product you’re coming out with. You can use a landing page to build specific hype around your promotion without deviating from your standard website strategy.

    Search optimization

    One of the greatest advantages of landing pages is their ability to be optimized for search. Even though they main not appear in your main navigation, or be straightforwardly accessible to users on your site, they still have the URL structures, titles, descriptions, and on-page content that any page can use to rank for a Google search:

    ultimate guide to onsite seo

    What’s the advantage here, when you could just create a specific page of your website to do the job? The big opportunity is to target niche keywords you may not otherwise include throughout your site. It allows you to cater to specific topics and specific audiences without interfering with the rest of your strategy. Of course, you’ll still need backlinks and offsite optimization if you want your landing pages to rank, but I’ll touch on this in a future section.

    Best Practices for Landing Pages

    Now you know exactly how and why landing pages are valuable, so let’s turn our attention to making the most of each landing page. It’s not enough to simply create a page, tie it to an inbound campaign, and hope for the best. There are a series of best practices you’ll have to follow, in concept, design, content, and execution, if you want to earn the greatest amount of revenue from the tactic.

    Conversion opportunity

    The bottom line for any landing page is the number of conversions it can generate. Naturally, you’ll want yours to earn as many conversions as possible. For that, you’ll need to optimize your page to encourage more conversions, regardless of what “type” of conversion you’re offering.

    • Overall focus. Think of your landing page as a machine to generate conversions. That is your focus. If you keep everything on your landing page focused on achieving more conversions, you’ll maximize your conversion rate. Otherwise, you run the risk of getting distracted with things like promoting your company image or leading users to other sections of your site. Your design, layout, and copy should all “funnel” the user to fill out your form (or complete a purchase), with no opportunities for that focus to be lost. These are concise, singularly functional pages, so don’t let yourself get carried away with chasing secondary goals.
    • Prominent call-to-action. You’ll also need a prominent and final “call-to-action” on your landing page. Even though your headlines and copy should make it clear that you want your users to convert, your CTA (usually a button) will be the final threshold a user has to cross before passing revenue to your business. Make it prominent with contrasting coloration, a strong, compelling phrase, and a bit of explanatory text as well. CrazyEgg demonstrates this well:

    call to action crazy egg

    (Image Source: Wordstream/CrazyEgg)

    A valuable offer

    Conversion opportunities can be lumped into two main groups: product purchases and user signups. In both groups, you’ll have to prove the value of your offer before a user will be persuaded to convert. In the case of product purchases, this means you have to show off the value of your product with bullet points, advantages, and possibly reviews and case studies. Make your user see the true value of your product.For user signups, don’t take user personal information for granted—there’s a value to this, and you’ll have to provide a value in return if you want to receive it. There are several ways you can do this:

    • Free trials. You could offer a free trial of your service, especially if you’re a SaaS company. This will entice users to part with their personal information, and will give you an easy opportunity to sell them on your full services down the road.
    • Free content. This is an extremely popular way to earn new user signups. Here, you’ll create a landmark piece of content, such as an eBook, a template, a toolkit, or even a lesson series, and offer it as an exchange for users’ personal data. Hubspot uses this on a rotating basis:

    brilliant home page design

    (Image Source: Hubspot)

    • Newsletter subscription. You could use your email newsletter as the “value” in question—as long as you can succinctly prove that the content you’re distributing is actually valuable.
    • Discounts. Finally, you can give users discounts or promotions (on your products or an unaffiliated brand’s) in exchange for their information.

    Concise headlines and copy

    The content of your landing page is going to make a big difference in how users interact with it. First, make sure your headlines and body copy are concise—now isn’t the time for long paragraphs of highly detailed content. Provide a link to your main site for users who want to learn more about you, but keep your landing page material as short and sweet as possible. Remember, your goal is to get a conversion. Nothing more, nothing less.

    You’ll want your headlines to be compelling and exciting, so show off your brand personality and use strong, urgent language to motivate your users to take action. Use your body copy to sell your offer (bullet points work great here) and of course, be sure to craft a powerful few-words-long phrase to use as your final CTA. This is one of the hardest areas to nail, so don’t be afraid if you don’t have it perfect in round one—there are plenty of ways to experiment with your headlines and copy as you continue your strategy.

    Aesthetically appealing design

    “Aesthetically appealing” is one of the vaguest and subjective phrases I can think of to describe the layout and visual appeal of a landing page, but it’s appropriate because of how many directions you can take here.

    There’s a basic “formulaic” kind of layout you can use to get started. This usually has your form featured prominently, with your logo, headlines, body copy, and peripheral material (like images and/or video) stacked against each other. This is good to get started with, but you’ll also want to customize your approach—you don’t want your landing page to look like every other page out there.

    landing page design example

    (Image Source: Unbounce)

    The key features here are keeping all your content “above the fold” (a term that means less and less as mobile marketing becomes more significant), using colors and fonts to emphasize key areas and avoid missed material, and organizing your sections as logically as possible. Strive for an “at a glance” style of presentation; remember, your users will be making their decisions rather quickly, so you need to convince them as swiftly as possible.

    One other important note about your design; keep it as branded as possible. You’ll want to feature your logo at the top of your landing page, keep the coloration in line with your brand, and of course leverage the power of your brand voice throughout. Make your brand stand out—even if you don’t convert users, you’ll at least stick in their memory.

    Easy, approachable functionality

    The functionality of your landing page is also important—if users are forced to jump through hoops, or if they become frustrated in any way by your page, they’ll abandon it without converting. These are just a few of the simple ways you can improve your functionality:

    • Don’t force a scroll. All of your most important content, especially your form, should be featured above the fold. If you make users scroll before you start effectively convincing them, you’ll lose deals. Feel free to offer content below the fold, but keep it limited to supplementary material that not everyone’s going to need.
    • Reduce your required fields. This is a huge deal—users want to spend as little time on your tasks as possible, so keep your forms limited to only a handful of fields. If all you’re looking for is subscribers or additions to your database, consider asking only for names and email addresses. If you have a particularly valuable offer, you can ask for more.
    • Simplify your steps. Users should complete your conversion process in as few steps as possible. If you force them to go through many steps of a checkout, they may bounce before ever completing the process. A one-click checkout isn’t always possible, but it’s something to strive for.
    • Improve loading times. This is a basic step, but one that shouldn’t be ignored; keep your loading time snappy by reducing your image sizes, limiting your on-page content (images and videos), and eliminating any unnecessary code or meta data from your back end.

    Trust factors

    Before users will convert, they have to have some level of trust in your brand. Since most of these users will be unfamiliar with your brand when they sign up, this can be difficult to pull off—you need to call upon the value of trust factors to get the job done:

    • Customer reviews and testimonials. Include a handful of customer reviews and testimonials. For some brands, this will mean going all-out with personalized video reviews. For others, it will mean showing off an aggregated star rating. Either way, social proof can go a long way in securing the trust of your newest visitors.
    • Publisher and partner affiliations. If you have partnerships, publishers, or affiliations that will seem valuable to your users, show them off! They take up very little space, and make a big impression with your users. Take a look at how AudienceBloom uses them:

    affiliations

    (Image Source: AudienceBloom)

    • Trust badges. Trust badges are like publisher affiliations, but are usually associated with institutions like the BBB, PayPal, or other places that offer formal certifications for various business elements.
    • Guarantees and trials. You can also secure trust by making the transaction more secure; for example, you can offer a money-back guarantee, or promise a free trial before having to start. Even a simple statement of “it’s free!” can increase your conversion rate:

    free trials landing page design

    (Image Source: Unbounce)

    • Alternate contact information. Give people more options to reach you, such as with a phone number or a live chat window. Most people won’t take you up on this information, but they’ll feel like you’re more “real” if you offer it, and they’ll grow to trust you more.

    Search optimization

    Finally, you’ll want to optimize your landing page for search engines. I’m only going to touch on the basics here, since I’ve delved into topics of onsite and offsite optimization previously:

    • Onsite factors. Make sure your landing page has a title and description appropriate to its purpose, and relevant to potential searchers. You’ll also want to make sure your URL is concise, descriptive, and features as few numbers and non-alphanumeric characters as possible. You should have at least a few hundred words of content on your page, and all your images and videos should be optimize to be crawled by search engines. If your landing page is relevant to the rest of your onsite content, you can even work on interlinking it.
    • Offsite factors. Most of your offsite optimization will revolve around the quantity and quality of links pointing to your landing page. Strategically target publishers to maximize your relevance to your target audience, and diversify your portfolio by including a number of different backlink sources. This will increase your page authority, which in turn will increase your proclivity to rank for relevant queries—just make sure your links are valuable and relevant, which can be hard to pull off if your landing page is focused strictly on sales.

    Integrating Your Landing Pages

    Most of the best practices I’ve covered thus far have related to the layout and structure of a single landing page, existing in a vacuum. Once a user gets to your landing page, these tactics will help you tremendously. But what about the path they take to your landing page, and what about how they relate to the strategies driving customers to them in the first place?

    For these considerations, you’ll also have to learn to integrate your landing pages effectively.

    Match the medium

    When structuring your landing page and drawing up headline copy, keep your chosen medium in mind. For example, let’s say you’re tying one of your landing pages to a segment of your social media audience. In this case, you can assume that most of your users will be on mobile devices, they’ll be looking for fast transactions, and they’re probably plugged into current events. Contrast this with a traffic source like referral traffic from a major source of information—these users will likely be in the middle of a major decision, and will have more time to consider their next actions carefully.

    Of course, it’s possible to send multiple traffic streams to a single landing page, especially if your target demographics have multiple means of communication and interaction. This is a general consideration, and should be treated with a degree of flexibility.

    Match the message

    You’re also going to want to match the message of your lead-in closely. For paid advertising campaigns, your landing page content should closely match the headline and copy you used in your ad. For other campaigns, you likely used a headline or short sentence to draw people in. Whatever the case, you need to keep a degree of consistency, or else your users are going to feel alienated and jarred when they start navigating your page.

    VistaPrint has a great example of message-matching done right. Take a look at the process here—a search for “cheap business cards” leads to this prominent advertisement, which promises 500 cards for $9.99. Click on the link and you’ll be met with the basic headline “standard business cards,” which matches the query and the ad, along with a price and quantity offer that exactly meets the expectations the ad set up.

    cheap business cards

    vista print landing page

    (Image Source: VistaPrint)

    There are no surprises and no sudden changes here.

    Compare and contrast

    Finally, I highly encourage you to launch more than one landing page, even if it’s only two variations of the same idea. Just as conducting a survey with one person doesn’t give you nearly as much information as conducting the same survey with many people, the more landing pages you have to look at in similar live environments, the better. Compare and contrast your approaches, keeping objectively measurable data at the center of your interpretations.

    Ongoing Considerations

    As you continue to run your landing pages in the context of your marketing campaign, there are a few ongoing best practices to keep in mind:

    • Measure everything you can. This is crucial. If you want to glean the most powerful insights from your audience, you need to measure everything you can—that means the basic information like traffic volume and conversion rates, but also lesser information like heat maps of user interaction. You won’t have to look at every piece of data you gather, but you need to gather it in case you want it later; much of your conclusions will be based on historical and comparative findings, so it’s definitely better to have too much information and not use it than to lose data you wish you had.
    • Experiment and refine your approach. Landing pages are not a strategy meant for one-time creation and execution. They are an organic strategy, evolving over time, and only over several rounds of changes will they start to improve in meaningful ways. Furthermore, you can’t rely on your conceptual or hypothetical assumptions to hold true; challenge yourself by changing your landing pages in unique and speculative ways. You are an experimenter, and only through trial and error will you learn, for sure, which tactics are effective and which ones aren’t.
    • Don’t manage more than you can handle. In an earlier section, I mentioned that having more landing pages was better; this is true in terms of the amount of data you’re able to gather, but at the same time, don’t try to manage more than you can handle simultaneously. Each of your landing pages requires attention, maintenance, and adjustment to earn growth, so the more you add to your plate, the fewer time and resources you can spend on each one. Keep your list consolidated to a group you can actively manage, and during the beginning of your campaign, limit your focus to only a few.
    • Hedge your bets. Invest in a number of different areas if you want to see the biggest return for your money; this means using landing pages for a number of separate marketing channels as well as using strongly differentiated designs and content to appeal to your audiences. If you have a major traffic stream (i.e., thousands of monthly visitors), don’t risk them all on one untested landing page; segment your traffic to “hedge your bets” and balance out the winners and losers.
    • Drop what doesn’t work. When you spend hours of time concepting and creating a landing page, you don’t exactly like to admit that it isn’t getting the job done. But like it or not, some of your landing pages, in part or in full, simply aren’t going to work. When you realize this, drop the dead weight immediately. It isn’t going to bring any additional value to you.

    Getting Started

    Marketers everywhere are increasing their online marketing budgets, and you should be doing the same. Landing pages are a cost-efficient way to make almost any marketing strategy you currently follow more effective, and they don’t take much work or experience to get started. In fact, if you’re currently using a template-based site or a convenient CMS like WordPress or Drupal, you can start creating your own landing pages immediately. They don’t have to be fancy at first—so long as they follow the best practices I’ve outlined in detail above. Instead, the true power in landing pages comes with your ongoing adjustment and refinement.

    The sooner you get started with your landing page strategy, the more you’ll stand to earn in long-term revenue, so begin your strategy now—even if your pages aren’t perfect.

  3. The 5 Stages of Content Marketing Growth

    Leave a Comment

    The true power of a content marketing campaign only makes itself clear with a suitable investment of time. Initially, you won’t see much in the way of results; your readership will be small, your authority will be negligible, and your content archives will be scarce. However, each new piece you create will serve as a semi-permanent landmark, and each new reader you attract will feasibly stick around for the long haul. These features make content marketing a strategy with the potential for exponential growth—provided you’re able to grow your efforts proportionally.

    content marketing growth

    (Image Source: Portent)

    Most people “get” content marketing conceptually, and may even be able to piece a basic strategy together, but people really get thrown off when they try to devise a strategy for long-term growth. It’s a confusing process, often manifesting in fits and starts, but you need to be able to predictably control it if you want to eventually reap the benefits.

    To help you better understand this growth process, I’ve split the “typical” content marketing timeline into five key stages of growth:

    1. Incubation.

    During this stage, you’ll be laying the groundwork for your campaign. When it starts, most of your work will be conceptual, manifesting as plans, strategies, and outlined processes for success. From there, you’ll be creating the building blocks for your vision, such as designing your blog, filling out your social media profiles, establishing your author profiles, and filling up your website with a suitable archive of posts. You’ll need these materials to work with as you start building your strategy, so you’ll be moving forward, but don’t expect a huge influx of readers and fans from the start.

    2. Anchoring.

    The next phase of growth is all about establishing certain “anchor points” for your campaign—think of these as the main spokes of webbing a spider would use to build a web. These can come in a variety of forms; for example, you might build up an initial following of a few hundred people by tapping your close contacts. You might create one or two “landmark” pieces, like eBooks or comprehensive guides. You could start working with one or two major publishers, developing your own powerful outside channel. The point is to secure some major mechanisms for growth early on.

    3. Experimentation.

    Here, you’ll start playing around with the tropes, methods, and tactics you’ve started growing accustomed to. It’s probably the biggest and hardest leap for content marketers to make, since it’s so easy to get used to your initial series of habits. Once you start seeing decent results, it’s common for marketers to just keep doing what they’ve been doing, but if you want to grow, you need to strive for something bigger and better. Experimentation comes in a variety of forms, all of which can be helpful. For example, you might try to appeal to a new audience, tinker around with a new medium or channel, or get yourself featured in a new line of publishers. Think outside the box here, as the further outside your comfort zone you go, the more you’ll stand to learn about what’s possible in content marketing—and of course, measure everything to a rigorous degree.

    4. Stabilization.

    Experimentation is inherently volatile—you’ll get some major wins, some major losses, and some results you aren’t quite sure what to do with. The stabilization phase of growth is all about sorting out what does and doesn’t work, and piecing together a strategy that’s cohesive, and relatively stable. It’s not going to come quickly or easily, as experimentation offers much more flexibility, but what you want is a stable, secure line of revenue, so a stable, secure means of content production and promotion is what you need to complement it. First, cut off your experimentation for the time being (you can always come back to this later), then retain and refine any bits and pieces of strategies you found to be especially helpful. Mold these into a new wing of your strategy, and start keeping it consistent. As more readers grow used to this approach, you’ll earn more loyalty and a more predictable return.

    5. Scaling.

    After stabilizing your campaign, the final phase of growth is sheer scaling—taking what you have and making it “bigger” in some way. In concept, this is a simple matter of quantitative growth; if you produce five posts a week, shoot for seven. If you have a network of eight publishers, shoot for a dozen. You’ll want to step up your posts, your syndication channels, your following, and your publishers, all iteratively, and all with the strategies you’ve already proven to be successful. This demands significant investment, but the results are worth it.

    These five stages aren’t universal, and they aren’t as concretely divided as they would seem on the surface. As I mentioned earlier, it’s more likely that your path to content marketing growth will happen in fits and starts, launching forward when you least expect it and stagnating even when you pour extra effort in. You’ll also experience blurrier lines between each phase, sometimes skipping around, and sometimes repeating phases (especially phases three through five).

    What’s important here isn’t the order or precise boundaries of growth, but the general trends and influencing factors. These will help you set better priorities, aim for more specific goals, and ultimately push your content strategy toward the appropriate next stages.

  4. How to Characterize a Software Product Through Branding

    Leave a Comment

    As a SaaS company, the heart of your business is your core software product, but unfortunately, until you grow to a much bigger size and reputation, your product isn’t going to sell itself. You can describe the logical benefits of your product, compare your price to your competitors, and demonstrate expert salesmanship when pitching it to new potential clients, but if it’s missing that “extra ingredient” to compel new users, even the best product on the market can fall flat.

    What is this extra ingredient? Branding. With it, an ordinary product can become extraordinary, and an extraordinary product can become unstoppable. But why is this branding element so important, and how can you characterize an inanimate, intangible product with it successfully?

    Why Is Branding Important for SaaS Companies?

    Branding is important for all companies for the following reasons:

    Recognition and customer acquisition.

    Branding allows your product (and company) to be recognized at a distance, much in the way that McDonald’s arches and the Nike swoosh have become simple symbols of much bigger, more complicated organizations. Over time, reiteration of these symbols and general atmospheres can lead to higher brand awareness, a better brand reputation, and therefore, a higher customer acquisition rate.

    Trust and loyalty.

    Consistent branding can also help you establish trust and loyalty in your existing population. When a user has a consistently positive experience, associated with some aspect of identity (such as a visual, or a tone of voice), he/she starts to associate the identity with the positive experience. It makes the decision to switch to a competitor that much harder, and encourages them to stay with your brand, specifically, for as long as possible.

    Foundation for advertising.

    Branding also gives you a solid direction on how to develop your advertising campaigns. It may give you a tone of voice, limits in terms of humor and sensationalism, visual cues, or a running theme you can exploit many times over. Not only does this make your advertising more effective; it also makes the conceptual process easier.

    Internal factors.

    Branding isn’t only for your customers. Creating a strong brand for your product, and your organization in general, can help you create a strong internal company culture as well. For example, let’s say you characterize your product as fun, energetic, and down-to-earth; in the right environment, you can nurture these characteristics in your employees, resulting in a more unified, productive, satisfied workforce. Google’s company culture is a perfect example.

    google company culture

    (Image Source: Google)

    But it’s even more important to SaaS companies because:

    Competition is fierce.

    Everyone realizes what a profitable and scalable model SaaS is, and as a result, the market’s been flooded with software products hoping for a piece of the action. Odds are, you have several competitors with few distinguishing factors between you. Branding can be your key distinguishing factor, edging out the competition immediately.

    Face-to-face interaction is nonexistent.

    Because most SaaS platforms are hosted online without a physical office, there’s almost no chance of face-to-face or personal interaction during the sales cycle. At the same time, personal connections are important to make strong sales and keep good customers. The solution? Use branding as a personal surrogate, demonstrating brand qualities the way you would a real personality.

    Short sales cycles.

    Your users are going to make a decision within a minute or two (for the most part). That’s not a lot of time to give your users a tour of your product or exhaustively list all the objective benefits of it. Instead, you have to give your potential customers a quick gut-level feeling that this is a good idea—and branding can help you do it.

    Retention is the gold standard.

    Finally, you have to know that SaaS companies aren’t won or lost in customer acquisition—it’s retention that separates the winners and losers. Branding can help you breed the familiarity, “personal” relationships, and commitment that keeps your customers subscribing to your service through thick and thin.

    The Trouble With Characterizing a Software Product

    Unfortunately, branding a product isn’t as simple as flipping a switch. You need something compelling, or else your brand won’t attract any new customers (or retain old ones), you need something that fits with your mission and vision as a company (or else it will be unstable), and you need something sustainable in the long-term (or else it won’t pay off). On top of those requirements, you’re working with something intangible and flexible, rather than a physical product.

    Throughout this guide, I’ll walk you through the main strategies you can use to develop a workable framework for your software brand, and implement it across your product, your site, your support network, your social media profiles, and of course, your advertising campaigns.

    Establishing Your Brand Standards

    Before your start applying your brand to the different areas of your SaaS business, you need to know what your brand standards are in the first place. I’ve written an extensively detailed guide, How to Build a Brand from Scratch, on the matter, so I’ll stay out of the weeds here, but I do want to highlight some of the most important components of a brand, and where those components are going to apply in your main strategies.

    Main Goals

    There are many goals for a brand to accomplish, but SaaS companies specifically need to zoom in on four of them:

    Differentiation.

    As noted above, one of the biggest challenges for SaaS companies in the current era is competition, so branding must serve as a differentiating factor. What is that factor? That’s up to you and your target audience. For example, compared to your competitors, could you be more professional in tone to appeal to more business people? Could you be more casual in tone to appeal to a younger audience? Do you want to be edgier? More traditional? There’s no right or wrong answer here, but when it’s all said and done, your brand should stand out from anything else on the market.

    Connection.

    Your brand needs to have a personal appeal to your target demographics. For this goal, it’s helpful to think of your brand as a kind of avatar for your company, representing it in a personal way so that your customers can form a personal attachment. Accordingly, your brand needs to embody characteristics that are approachable, familiar, or otherwise engaging to your target market (and you may need to do some research for this). As an example, take MailChimp’s literal “chimp” mascot, who makes everything seem friendlier, funnier, and more approachable.

    mailchimp

    (Image Source: MailChimp)

    (Side note: you don’t need a mascot to accomplish this)

    Immersion.

    The immersion factor is one unique to SaaS companies, since some brands have the luxury of limited customer interactions. Your customers, however, will be using your product for extended periods of time, and engaging with your brand in many different mediums, from your app itself, to your content, your website, your help pages, and even your social media accounts. If you want to be successful, you need to nurture an entire environment where people feel connected to your brand—not just one-time representations or one-sided interactions.

    Reinforcement.

    You need to use your brand to reinforce positive experiences with your product, and continually remind users why they signed up for your service in the first place. A good brand will have the potential to summarize all the visions and values of your company, and repeat itself throughout many channels, mediums and applications. The more places you are, the more you’ll be seen, and the more easily recognized you’ll be.

    Main Applications

    Now that you know what you need to accomplish, you need to know the main paths through which you can accomplish them. Creating a brand isn’t easy, but it helps if you can reduce your identity standards down to four main “groups” of characteristics.

    Logo and colors.

    Up first are the logo and colors of your brand, which are usually the first elements that people notice. There’s a reason for this; humans have strong visual senses, so we naturally lock onto and remember visual patterns. You’ll need to select a color scheme that fits your company’s tone, mood, and target audience (as well as your competitive landscape), and your logo should attempt to concisely represent who your company is and what it has to offer.

    Image and character.

    This set of characteristics is a bit more abstract, as it defines the “concept” of your brand more so than any tangible assets. For this, it’s often best to visualize your brand as a character, and imagine what that character might be like (as well as how it might be different from your competitors). Apple took this step literally in its now-landmark advertising campaign pitting Macs against PCs with actors representing each brand. You don’t have to go this far, but you do need to be able to describe the “type” of person your brand would be.

    image and character

    (Image Source: Business Insider)

    Voice.

    As another outlet for your brand’s communication, consider the tone and shape of your voice. I alluded to this a bit earlier, but you’ll need to consider a number of questions regarding how you write; how advanced is your vocabulary going to be? How casual can you be with your words, in terms of colloquialisms, abbreviations, and profanity? Will your sentences be short and concise or long and descriptive? These choices help shape your brand identity, and make a big impact on users whether they realize it or not.

    User experience.

    Finally, there are user experience factors, and this set of identity standards is unique to SaaS companies. Your users are going to be engaging with your software regularly, so how they interact with your software may help them form a stronger brand impression. For example, how does your app respond to their inputs? What feelings do your users get when they log in? We’ll explore some specific applications and examples of this later on.

    Be sure to formally document your strategy for each of these key areas, as this will serve as your identity guidelines moving forward. Keep this document handy as we move through the next few sections.

    The following sections will each touch on one area of application for your new brand standards, exploring how best to integrate the concept of your brand in a way your consumers will identify and relate to.

    The Product

    First, we need to take a look at the product itself, the reason you’re in business. You may already have a set framework or concept for your app, but the final layer of design and development should be heavily influenced by the type of brand you want to create.

    Overall design

    The type of basic design you offer can make a radical difference in how a user receives your app. Here, you need to think beyond what’s the most aesthetically pleasing (though that helps too) and think about what’s going to cement your brand’s identity in the minds of your users.

    These are just a handful of questions to get you started:

    • Do you want to look futuristic, or do you want a throwback look?
    • Do you want something fun and idiosyncratic, or something serious and precise?
    • Do you want something colorful and creative, or something more analytical and defined?
    • What colors should be prominent in your app, and what level of contrast do you want to achieve?

    There are no right or wrong answers to these choices; again, this all depends on who your target audience is and how you want to differentiate yourself. Whatever you choose, your choice should be apparent throughout the application, aiding the “immersive” experience that a successful brand-consumer relationship demands.

    Take Workday’s app as an example; it uses bright, palette colors throughout its app and precise, formal design choices to demonstrate an aura of professionalism while still being friendly and approachable.

    workday

    (Image Source: Workday)

    Functionality

    Of course, the design fun doesn’t stop at these basic design questions. You’ll also want to consider what types of functionality you want to include, and how those functions might signal different brand qualities to your users.

    For example, imagine you have a row of tabs on the main part of your app, and whenever you hover over one, it pops up, growing bigger and changing colors dynamically. Now imagine a wheel of options in the center of the page, and whenever you hover over one option, the others fade away. These produce two very distinct “feels,” the former being more fun and out-of-the-way, and the latter being more pragmatic and efficient.

    The type of functionality you present can be at a high level, such as deciding what features to offer your users or how to incorporate those features in a basic design, or at a more specific level, such as coming up with Easter eggs and quirks that your users can find by exploring your app.

    A “claim to fame”?

    If your software has a “claim to fame,” or some kind of functional distinction that separates it from other brands in your niche, you need to play this up throughout your product wherever you can. For example, let’s say your uniqueness rests on your app’s ability to perform functions faster than any other app on the market. In this case, you may want to include subtle reminders of this “speed” factor, such as tongue-in-cheek references on loading pages, or timers for specific functions.

    You don’t need to have one of these, but it can be helpful in securing your users’ loyalty. Brainstorm about the different advantages your company could offer, and settle on at least one that you can play up. This will also help you when you create advertising and social campaigns for your brand.

    Site and Support

    If you’re like most SaaS companies, you’ll have a website and a support/help center for your users in addition to wherever your software is hosted (website, mobile app, etc.). This is another great opportunity for you to show off what makes your brand special, appeal to curious new users, and of course, retain the users you’ve already collected.

    Layout and design

    Your first look should be at the layout and design of your website. For the most part, you can follow the same rules you followed in the design portion of your software development. Think about the way your colors and logo can integrate into your design, and question what types of functionality you want to offer your users. Obviously, you want your site to be intuitive and functional, but how are your choices affecting users’ perceptions of your brand identity?

    Copy and content

    Copy and content are both forms of writing for your audience, but the former is about quick-hitting headlines and opportunities for conversion, while the latter is about presenting information.

    In the former case, your web copy can do an awesome job of presenting exactly what kind of character your brand is. Carefully consider your tone, as every word here is going to count, and inject your headlines with bits of humor, or pride, or exclusivity, depending on your brand and goals. Zendesk has an excellent example with this headline, where they reveal their approachable vocabulary and throw in a vanilla punchline to get a quick laugh while avoiding rocking the boat:

    copy and content

    (Image Source: Zendesk)

    Your content marketing strategy is another powerful opportunity to demonstrate your brand, and it can manifest in a few different areas. First, you’ll want an ongoing content strategy to fuel your SEO campaign and attract new readers; this will likely reside in your blog. Second, you’ll want a comprehensive help and support section, full of interactive and searchable documents to help users when they (inevitably) encounter trouble with your software. In both cases, you’ll need to keep your content concise, and strictly adherent to the tone you’ve established for your brand. When users encounter this content, they’ll either be seeing your brand for the first time, or they’ll be in need of help—either way, they’re especially vulnerable, and your angle could make or break their impression of your brand.

    Examples and Easter eggs

    Throughout your help section especially, you’ll have the opportunity to include Easter eggs and subtle tidbits that your observant users will pick up on. They can be inside jokes, subtle references, or unique pockets of functionality that aren’t otherwise visible.

    For example, take MailChimp’s sample template referencing “adorable kittens” as an amusing alternative to something like lorem ipsum text. It falls in line with the amusing and friendly nature of the brand:

    mailchimp template design

    (Image Source: MailChimp)

    Personal exchanges

    Finally, whether it’s in a live chat, on a forum, or in some other method of exchange, you’ll probably be communicating with customers directly to resolve issues. When you do this, make sure your customer service representatives are using a voice and approach that falls in line with your brand standards. This will add a layer of comfort and familiarity to the experience, and if consistent enough, will lead to higher feelings of brand trust and loyalty. From there, your customer retention rates will skyrocket.

    Social Media and Advertising

    I’ve lumped the two of these applications together because, while independent, they are related. Both involve communicating directly with an audience outside the scope of your software product itself (or your website, in most cases). Ultimately, your brand standards should govern your approach to each.

    Personality and content

    Social media gives you the chance to truly show off your personality, and you better take advantage of it. Social media is where your users are going to turn when they want to contact you directly, the “you” in this case being your brand. Remember my example earlier, where I alluded to the fact that your brand should be a stand-in for a real person? The concept applies here too. Whenever you make a post, or respond to a user, or do anything on social media, you need to do so in a “voice” that matches your brand standards. This is going to be tough, especially since you’ll probably have multiple people working on one account, and you’ll often be posting as a reactionary measure, rather than a premeditated one. However, with solid and consistent brand standards, you can keep this atmosphere consistent and enhance the approachability and familiarity of your brand.

    Multiple social arms

    It’s also a good idea, if your audience is large enough, to segment your social media presence into different designated arms, such as one for customer support and one for regular updates. SalesForce takes this to another level, with no fewer than six separate Twitter accounts to follow, depending on your goals.

    salesforce twitter accounts

    (Image Source: Twitter)

    This will help you maintain consistency and delegate responsibilities for different engagements while keeping your overall brand consistent. You’ll also need to apply your brand standards to multiple social profiles at once, simultaneously following best practices for each app.

    Community building

    The more your brand is mentioned, the more popular and visible it’s going to become; when you develop a powerful enough community, you can ease off the gas and let your community start doing the promotional work for you. At higher levels of development, some SaaS companies start earning more customers simply because they have so many existing customers talking about them and working with them on a regular basis.

    You can encourage the development of a community in your own social spheres (and on your site) by creating a forum, engaging with your customers regularly, rewarding customers for engaging with others, and encouraging more brand engagements with contests, questions, and requests for user-submitted content.

    Brand as a foundation

    There are tons of advertising options beyond content marketing and social media; PPC advertising, banner ads, and even traditional forms of advertising like TV and radio are just a handful of examples. Your brand needs to serve as a foundation for all of these if you want to maximize your potential; if you’re consistent, this will greatly increase user familiarity with your brand, and keep your company top-of-mind with those already engaging with it. Before you develop the concept for a new ad campaign, ask yourself, does this fit in with my company’s image? Is the tone right? Are the company’s colors and logos visible? Does this accurately represent the type of experience a user might have with the app? You need to answer “yes” to all these questions before proceeding.

    Parting Thoughts

    Consistency.

    I’ve covered a lot of information in this guide, and most of it has focused on creating your brand standards and where you can apply those standards to fully characterize your brand. This will help you conceptualize a brand, and it gives you a good visual map for how your brand needs to develop, but there are a handful of further considerations I want to leave you with as you begin your SaaS brand journey.

    Branding is one of the most powerful and important marketing strategies you’ll use, in part because it affects all your other strategies, but it’s only going to be effective if you’re consistent with it. You can’t apply your brand to just your product, or just your social media campaign, and hope to reap the full benefits of the integration, nor can you change your brand standards a few months into the game. You can tweak your brand, gradually over time, but you have to give users that consistent look, feel, and comfort, or you’ll never be able to build the recognition or retention you need.

    Invisible values.

    It’s hard to directly measure the results of your branding efforts; you can’t calculate a brand ROI the way you can with just a social media marketing or just an SEO strategy. Branding’s most impressive values are actually somewhat invisible, unless you try to measure them with qualitative user surveys; for example, how can you measure the average person’s “awareness” of your brand? How can you measure a person’s disposition toward staying with your brand (especially when compared to a hypothetical scenario in which you have a different brand entirely)? You’ll have to rely on indirect indicators here.

    Company culture.

    I mentioned this earlier, but it’s worth repeating. If you want to reap the full value of a comprehensive SaaS brand, you can’t think of it as only existing for your customers. Your brand’s character and style should permeate your entire organization, giving your employees a standard to aspire to and giving them a foundation for how to interact with customers and vendors. It’s going to leave you with a more powerful, more cohesive organization—even if you don’t notice it right away.

    When characterized with a carefully considered and thoroughly described brand, your software will do a better job of standing out, pleasing your customers, and ultimately making you more money. Don’t take this strategy lightly.

  5. How to Use Google Analytics to Audit Your Content Strategy

    Leave a Comment

    It’s not enough to merely have a content marketing strategy. No matter how perfectly thought-out your approach was, how brilliant your tactics are in theory, or how successful you are in executing your campaign, there’s still one more step preventing you from fully reaping the rewards of content marketing: review.

    Reviewing your procedures and results is a necessary step if you want to know whether all your efforts were worth it; skipping this process is akin to throwing darts at a dart board, blind, and never checking to see if you hit the target. Not only will you remain ignorant of whether or not your content strategy is working, you’ll never gain the opportunity to make improvements, because you’ll never figure out what weaknesses you can compensate for or which strengths you can enhance.

    Moving Parts

    There’s a big hurdle most companies face before even beginning a content marketing audit, however: the many moving parts of a content marketing strategy. Though the basic concept of content marketing is simple (attracting more people to your brand through the publication of unique, valuable content), the reality touches many areas at once. This makes measuring the effectiveness of your campaign and diagnosing potential problems equally difficult.

    For example, let’s say you’re trying to figure out how much value your content is brining you. Which channels do you look at? Theoretically, content can bring you organic traffic from search engines, direct traffic from repeat visitors, referral traffic from outside sources, and social traffic from your social media platforms. Besides that, how do you measure brand loyalty you’ve gained, or what kind of impressions you’re making?

    The Right Tool for the Jo

    It’s tough to hit all these points with only one tool, and even harder to reduce them all to quantitative values, since so many content effects are both qualitative and long-term. Rather than explore the many types of tools you can use to evaluate different angles of your campaign (perhaps I’ll save that for a future post), today I want to narrow my focus to one tool that can help you get a “big picture” snapshot of your campaign. It’s highly effective, easy to pick up, and best of all, it’s free for everyone: it’s Google Analytics, and we’re going to use it to audit your content marketing strategy.

    Topic Success

    We’ll be getting into some of the measurable effects your content has, including how much traffic it generates, a bit later, but first, let’s take a look at how well your posts are performing in general. Performance, or “success” here is hard to pin down, since there are so many factors you’ll want to consider:

    These are mostly qualitative measures, but we can indirectly infer how your content is performing with a couple of key areas in your Analytics dashboard.

    How to Measure

    We’re going to be looking at the “Behavior” section of Analytics, where we can learn how people are accessing and engaging with your site. To start, open up the Site Content submenu and click on All Pages.

    behavior google analytics

    Here, you’re going to see a pretty massive breakdown of all the pages of your site, along with a number of metrics relating to those pages. At the top will probably be your “main” navigation pages, such as your home, about, and contact pages, but as you scroll down (and expand the chart to account for all pages in your sitemap), you’ll start finding your individual blog pages.

    analytics per page

    There are a number of dimensions to look at here:

    • Pageviews, which tell you how many people visited this page of your site.
    • Unique pageviews, which tell you how many “unique” visitors you had for this page (i.e., no repeat traffic).
    • Average time on page, which tells you how long a user has spent on this page.
    • Entrances, which tell you how many people used this page to first enter your site.
    • Bounce rates, which tell you how many people left this page after viewing it as the first page of your site.
    • Exit rates, which tell you how many people left this page after viewing it as the final page of your site.

    You should also note the degree of control you have over this menu. For starters, you can adjust the date parameters to reflect a certain time period. If you want a “zoomed out” look at your content strategy overall, you can set this to months or years, but for most people, the past month is a good range to look at. You can also segment the traffic that appears in this breakdown, which is extremely useful for determining your content’s effectiveness in different sectors. For example, you can look at how only your social-originated traffic engages with your content. Play around with your options here.

    traffic segment

    Key Takeaways

    There are a handful of key indicators to look for here to evaluate your content performance:

    • Post popularity. Which posts are receiving the most pageviews? This report filters pages by this statistic by default, so take a look at your top-performing posts. What do they have in common? Similarly, which posts seem to be underperforming? This will give you a general indication of how attractive these topics are.
    • Time on page. This is an excellent measure of how interested people are in your content after visiting it, and will tell you how “good” your material is. This is different from initial attractiveness; for example, let’s say you have a post with only a handful of pageviews but the time spent on page is extraordinarily high. This tells you your headline isn’t very attractive, but your content is engrossing. In the opposite scenario, your headline may be powerfully compelling, but your content can’t back it up.
    • Exit rate. Your goal should be to have your content be so interesting, or so positive that it encourages people to explore your site further. If your exit rates are unnaturally high, it means your content isn’t doing a good job of making people interested in your brand.

    We’ll be taking a look at a few more “performance” metrics in the “bottom line” section of this guide, but these should get you started in the right direction.

    SEO Benefits

    The SEO side of content is at once harder and easier to explore; you can gather tons of data about how you’re doing from a search optimization perspective, but it’s difficult to tie this specifically to your content marketing campaign. For the most part, you’ll have to look at the broad strokes of your SEO efforts, and make adjustments to your content strategy to compensate for them. For example, if your rankings and organic traffic are stagnating, you know something needs to change in your approach.

    How to Measure

    There are a few different places where you can learn about the state of your SEO campaign (and a ton of third party tools that can dig even deeper), but we’re interested in the big picture here. Let’s start by taking a look at the Acquisition section, where we can learn about where your site traffic is coming from. Start by heading to the Overview section.

    acquisition google analytics

    Here, you’ll see a handy breakdown of the four main sources of traffic your site receives: direct, referral, social, and organic traffic. You can compare and contrast various metrics related to these traffic streams, which is valuable, but for right now, we’re only interested in organic traffic (traffic that comes from search engines).

    traffic sources

    Click on “Organic Search” here, and you’ll see a breakdown of your traffic similar to the breakdown you saw for all the pages of your site, with information about the visitors coming in.

    google analytics chart

    On the left, you’ll see a “keyword” section which may provide you information about the most popular queries that led people to your site. However, Google has gotten stingy about providing this information (since it prompts people to try and manipulate their ranks). For the most part, you’ll see “not provided” listed here. There are some ways around this data hurdle, especially with third party tools, but again, we’re looking at the big picture here.

    Key Takeaways

    The biggest factor you want to monitor is how your organic traffic is developing. With a proper and upward scaling content strategy, your organic traffic figures should increase month over month (with occasional discrepancies for seasonal changes or random fluctuations). If you aren’t seeing this growth, or if you suspect something’s wrong, you can gather that at least one of the following is true:

    • Your onsite SEO is flawed. This is unrelated to your content strategy, but is important to note.
    • Your onsite content has dropped in quality. This could result in less engaged traffic, lower authority measures, or fewer inbound links, all of which could negatively affect your SEO growth.
    • Your offsite content has slowed or dropped in quality. Your offsite content efforts are responsible for building the links that pass authority to your site. If there’s a flaw in the quality of your material, your sources, or your patterns of growth, your momentum could suffer.
    • You’ve failed to scale. As your business climbs in ranks, gaining more and more visibility, you’ll have to pour more and more effort in your strategy if you want to continue growing. Of course, if you’re happy where you’re at, it’s possible to maintain your traffic flow with consistent continued efforts—but why stay satisfied with where you are, when you have the chance to grow even further?
    • A competitor has emerged. Your drop in organic traffic could be the result of a newly emerged competitor, and there’s not much you can do about that other than step up your strategy to fight back against their arrival.

    Any of these could be the root problem, and it’s up to your personal insights to figure out which. With a little digging—such as evaluating your backlink profile to determine the state of your offsite strategy, or conducting competitive research to see how your content stacks up against a competitor’s—you should be able to pinpoint the problem further. Otherwise, take note of your traffic figures and count them as a beneficial effect of your strategy. If you’re consistently growing, month after month, you know you’re doing something right!

    Social Influence

    This section assumes you’re using social media to syndicate, promote, or otherwise enhance the visibility of your content marketing strategy—as well you should. One of social media marketing’s most significant benefits is increasing the reach of your onsite material, and it also helps you realize how effective your campaign is at attracting attention. It’s hard to filter out non-content-related social factors as influential here, such as engaging in conversations with other influencers or responding to social comments; however, these can be interpreted as forms of content in their own right.

    How to Measure

    Remember that Acquisition Overview where we just looked at organic traffic? Now we’re going to take a look at social traffic. You’re going to see a fairly similar chart here, broken down by the individual social media source:

    traffic from social media

    The basic stats here are going to be familiar. Sessions, new sessions, new users, bounce rate, and pages per session are the main indicators here. You can also click into any of your social media profiles for more details about the types of people visiting your site and what their resulting behavior is.

    If you’re engaged in an offsite SEO component to your content strategy (i.e., guest posting), you’ll also want to take a look at the referral traffic here. This is going to tell you where most of your external-link-based traffic is coming from, distributed by source. This is useful for determining not only which publishers are sending you the most traffic, but which posts are resonating with which segments of those audiences the best.

    Key Takeaways

    Your takeaways here will be dependent on a number of variables, so I’ll try to keep this high level:

    • Your most effective social distribution channels. This is an easy metric to spot, and should speak volumes about your target demographics. However, this is also dependent on how active you are on this platform and what tactics you’re currently using; for example, you might have tremendous potential on Instagram, but if you aren’t using it correctly, it may appear at the bottom of your list.
    • The appropriateness of your content strategy for each platform. Is there one platform that seems to be underperforming compared to the others, or one platform that’s a rock star? It probably means the appropriateness of your strategy matches its demographics better than the others. You may need to tailor your content strategy a bit differently to account for this.
    • Which topics perform best per platform. Once you drill down to the individual platform metrics, you’ll able to uncover which content topics are performing best on each platform. You can use this information to customize your content distribution to appeal to these segments. For example, you might find that your Twitter audience prefers “quick tips” style posts, while your Facebook audience prefers in-depth analyses.
    • Platform-specific engagement rates. Don’t forget to look at metrics like bounce rate and pages per session on a per-platform basis, as well. You’ll probably find that some of your platforms have higher engagement rates, which may mean that this platform’s demographics are closer to your brand’s target audience, or that your content strategy is simply better in these areas.

    Ultimately, you should be able to use this data to perfect your platform-specific strategies, and reallocate your resources to favor the most useful platforms to your brand.

    Bottom Line

    Traffic and engagement figures are nice, but what really matters to the overall “value” of a content strategy is how many conversions you’re able to earn. Once you calculate the value of a conversion (either with an average sale, or average close ratio and customer lifetime value, depending on the nature of your conversion), you can measure conversions and assign a roughly accurate figure to the overall ROI of your campaign.

    How to Measure

    First, you’re going to want to create “goals,” which are Analytics’s way of helping you identify, categorize, and track the meaningful conversion actions throughout your site. You can track things like checkouts, form signups, or other forms of interaction (like playing a video or clicking a specific link). Head to the admin section of your dashboard, and click on the Goals section.

    goals google analytics

    The process is relatively straightforward. Unless you’re doing something abnormal or crazy, you can use one of Google’s many approachable templates to build a goal that suits your needs.

    goal settings google analytics

    If you need further help getting set up with the goals you want to track, Google has a fantastic guide on the subject.

    Once your goals are created, you can track them in a handful of different ways. From the highest-level perspective, you can track your goals globally just by accessing the goals section and looking at each of your constructs. You can even assign a value to a goal to make your at-a-glance value even more apparent.

    You also have the ability to track goals as they relate to different reports you’ve already generated. For example, in our page breakdown (in the section on topic performance near the top of this guide), you can evaluate how many people from a specific page ended up completing each of your goals, which can tell you the conversion potential of each blog post you produce.

    Key Takeaways

    The biggest takeaway here is the conversion potential of your content strategy. When viewed as a percentage, you’ll be able to see exactly how well a piece of yours converts compared to your other pieces; from these, you can glean key insights about which topics have the greatest potential to convert, and which calls-to-action generate the best responses.

    Analysis and Action

    Throughout this guide, I’ve shown you all the ways that Google Analytics can help you understand the effectiveness of your content marketing campaign, but there’s still one more step to take. Data and conclusions are important, and can make you feel like you’ve accomplished something, but they’re only meaningful if they lead to some kind of action. Unless you compensate for the weaknesses you’ve uncovered, boost the areas of strength you’ve measured, or otherwise adjust your campaign to see better results in the future. Everything you glean from Google Analytics, or any other measurement platform for that matter, should be boiled down to some kind of actionable takeaway. Focus on doing, rather than just evaluating, and you’ll end up with a higher performing campaign in no time.

  6. How Twitter’s Content Algorithm Is Influencing Instagram

    Leave a Comment

    Social media is a relatively new area for development, and apps are constantly clamoring to offer better, more unique functions to their customers. When new apps break into the scene, they usually offer something truly novel, that no other mainstream app has offered before, but eventually, they settle into a rhythm of mutual influence, where they “normalize” (for lack of a better word) and start integrating functions present in other apps to make a more mainstream, approachable model.

    The bottom-line effect from this phenomenon is that when one social media platform comes out with a new feature, another is sure to come out with their own version before too long. That was the case with Twitter’s new content algorithm, as Instagram is now coming out with its own version of the update—and it could have a lasting effect on the social media world in general.

    Twitter’s New Content Algorithm

    Twitter announced its new timeline changes back in February on its official blog, and the change was committed shortly thereafter. By default, Twitter used to display posts purely in chronological order—users’ timelines were filled with their followed accounts’ most recent updates at the top, with older updates populating below in descending order. After the update, a new algorithm selectively curates posts to appear in an order based on perceived relevance, not dissimilar to how Facebook newsfeeds currently display content.

    User reactions were polarizing at first, with some proclaiming the update as a massive step forward and others insisting that it took away some of what made Twitter special in the first place. Users can opt out of the feature easily enough, however, by changing one simple option in their account settings.

    Twitter Settings

    (Image Source: Twitter)

    The Instagram Update

    Thanks to Instagram’s currently higher popularity, especially with younger users, it made an even bigger impact when it announced a content algorithm change in March. According to Instagram’s formal announcement, users only end up seeing about 30 percent of their newsfeeds under the old model (pure chronological listings), forcing the company to assert that users are often missing out on some of the posts that would matter the most to them.

    Instagram, like Twitter, doesn’t get into the weeds explaining what their new content algorithm is or how it works, other than the fact that it will “select” the most relevant, appropriate content for users on an individual basis, and order that content using a blend of different factors. No posts will be removed from the timeline, so users will still have access to the same material they would otherwise—just in a different order.

    As with Twitter’s announcement, reactions have been mixed. Many users, companies, and organizations have heralded the update as a positive change (and a long time coming), but other users are in an uproar. Some have even taken to starting a petition to force Instagram to keep its purely chronological update.

    Instagram Settings

    (Image Source: Change.org)

    Despite the noise, it’s highly unlikely that Instagram is going to change its mind.

    Fears Over Selected Content

    Part of the reason there’s significant controversy over Twitter’s and Instagram’s decisions is a perceived loss of control by users. Chronological order was completely unbiased, and unaffected by any ulterior motives. Now that some extra layer is influencing how content is ordered, users are afraid that they’ll be manipulated by the companies in charge, at least to a certain degree. Few would outspokenly argue that there’s some grand hidden conspiracy by social media companies to brainwash or toy with their user bases (after all, that’s where they make their money), user manipulation isn’t completely unheard of.

    Back in 2014, Facebook revealed that it intentionally altered the Facebook timelines of more than half a million users, selectively filling user timelines with either strongly positive or strongly negative pieces of content to see whether users would have a similarly strong positive or negative reaction. It’s doubtful that the naysayers of these updates are worried about being emotionally manipulated in the same way, but this is the type of fear that permeates both user bases. Users have grown accustomed to things like Facebook newsfeeds and Google search results being sorted by an outside authority’s perceived relevance, but when such a change comes to a pre-existing unbiased organization, the dissonance becomes clear.

    The Normalization of Social Apps

    Users and marketers should also be conscious of this effect of “normalization” in social apps. While each “rising star” social app begins in a niche role, with specific polarizing features, as they gain more users and approach mainstream integration, they tend to gravitate toward a standardized formula. These new content algorithms are just one example—also consider how SnapChat has made itself less private with retrievable snaps, how Pinterest has turned itself into a kind of eCommerce hybrid, and how LinkedIn gradually inches closer and closer to Facebook in terms of look and feel.

    The Future of Social Media Competition

    There are a few key takeaways to learn from this wave of content algorithm changes. As a marketer, you need to make yourself aware of the possible changes social media platforms hold for the future, and what’s important to the users who rely on them. Be prepared for increased functionality geared toward user relevance, including possible controls on the company/organization side of things. As these changes roll out, it’s important to shift your focus from timing to even higher relevance—and of course, always keep watch for new trends on the horizon.

  7. How to Use Content to Earn More Conversions

    Leave a Comment

    Conversions are your path to making more money online. Get more conversions, and you’ll earn more revenue. It’s that simple. There are a handful of ways to increase your conversion rates, from using paid advertising to featuring your products on external eCommerce platforms, but for me, there’s no better tool for achieving conversions than content.

    “Conversions” are often loosely defined, and you’ll encounter some writers who will say a conversion has taken place when someone clicks through a different article, or socially shares your piece of content. For the purposes of this guide, however, we’ll focus on harder, more measurably valuable conversions—usually either securing a purchase or donation, or collecting some meaningful bits of personal information from a user. This guide’s intention is to teach you how to use content to get more of these hardline conversions for your site.

    Content vs. Copywriting

    First, I need to acknowledge an important distinction between content writing and copywriting. Though similar, copywriting is typically short-form, and focused on persuading an audience to take a specific action. You’ll find this type of writing in advertisements frequently. See Trello’s ad as an example:

    Trello

    (Image Source: Trello)

    Here, you have a catchy headline, a short description, and a CTA button. This is a fine example of copywriting, but it doesn’t have enough meat to be qualified as “content” in this sense. We’ll touch on elements of copywriting when we get to the section on in-content calls-to-action, but for the most part, everything in this guide will focus on actual content marketing.

    The 3 Pillars of Content-Conversion Relationships

    There are three main areas where content can affect your conversion rates, and I’m going to explore each of them in turn:

    • Acquisition.First, there’s content’s capacity to earn you more visitors. Increased traffic, with a steady conversion rate, is going to result in a higher total number of conversions. Our goals here will be writing, publishing, and syndicating content across multiple channels to secure the greatest volume and relevance of traffic to your site or landing page.
    • Exchange. Content may also be used as an element of exchange, particularly when it comes to B2B conversions that only ask for personal information as a conversion event. This content must be equal to or greater in value than the information you’re requesting.
    • Immediate conversion. There’s also the opportunity to leverage your content as a platform for immediate conversion. Here, you’ll be injecting CTAs into the body of your content in an effort to secure a completed conversion event.

    Without further ado, let’s find out exactly how content can secure you the conversion rates you’ve always wanted.

    Content as Acquisition

    Let’s assume that you have a steady conversion rate. You’re happy with it, but you need more inbound traffic to scale your total number of conversions to a desirable level. The best thing to do here is focus on generating traffic—and even if your conversion rate leaves something to be desired, more traffic is going to help you eventually, so you might as well get started here.

    Content is your greatest tool for long-term traffic generation, because it can be used in three interrelated ways.

    Onsite Content and SEO

    Understand that every new piece of content you create on your site is another page for Google to crawl and another opportunity for an average searcher to encounter your brand. My quick search for “SEO news” turned up three articles before even getting to the organic results, and this certainly isn’t the only way to get more search visibility.

    SEO News Search Results

    Writing more content gives your site more text for Google to crawl, giving it a better understanding of your site. Each new piece is also an opportunity to rank for a relevant user query. Accordingly, all your pieces should be:

    • Highly specific. General topics, like “SEO,” are already done to death by major brands you probably can’t afford to compete with—plus Google’s Knowledge Graph may supply searchers with this general information before they ever encounter you. Choosing very specific topics will help you navigate around these competitive challenges, and secure you greater per-piece visibility.
    • Desirable. Obviously, your content can only be found if people are actually searching for it. You’ll want to delve into some keyword research, competitive research, and into your current client base with surveys to ensure you’re selecting topics that people actually want to read. Generally, the more practical they are, the better.
    • Targeted. Your inbound traffic is only going to convert if they’re comprised of your target demographics in a mid- to late-stage of the buying cycle. Write your content accordingly. Dig deep into your market research, and try to supply information for the types of people who are most likely to convert once on your site.
    • Optimized. I won’t get into the specifics of SEO in this article, but know that your articles will have to meet certain SEO protocols to maximize their chances of being featured in SERPs. For example, title tags, header tags, a meta description, and visual elements should all be included.

    Be aware that it takes time to develop your domain authority to the point where your content earns a substantial rank.

    Offsite Content

    Offsite content has two main purposes. The first is for SEO and organic visibility. Google sees inbound links as a form of third-party approval of a site; a link from a high-authority domain will “pass” authority to its intended destination, increasing its authority by proxy. This occurs on both a domain and page level, and is necessary if you want to earn any ranking momentum.

    The second is for referral traffic. Any link you build using an offsite piece of content will be clickable, and if the content is good enough, it will generate a substantial stream of traffic to your site.

    You can take advantage of both these benefits as long as you have a solid offsite content marketing campaign. Typically, this involves getting your content featured on sources of increasing authority, from local news sites and forums to major national publishers. Again, I’ll stay out of the weeds on this, but I’ll leave you with a handful of important takeaways on how offsite content can best increase traffic ready to convert:

    • Write stellar content. If you’re just stuffing links into mediocre material, you’ll lose referral traffic, and you might not even get accepted by external publishers in the first place.
    • Know your audiences. Don’t write for a publisher whose audience is far outside your target demographics.
    • Link to your key conversion opportunities. If you have specific landing pages or product pages, link to them frequently to boost their page authority. If your homepage doubles as a conversion opportunity, that makes the process even simpler:

    Wave Apps

    (Image Source: WaveApps)

    Social Syndication

    You can also use your content as the “meat” for your social media campaign. Rather than constantly trying to goad your followers into visiting your site or buying your products, you’ll supply them with a near-constant stream of valuable content, which they can use to inform their decisions and build trust in your brand. Click-through rates on content are higher than for sales (typically), so use your content as a bridge to get your social users to your site, and sell them once they’ve crossed that bridge.

    Of course, you’ll also have to work on building up your social audiences—the more dedicated, active followers you have, the higher impact your content syndication will have on your bottom line. Remember to engage with your users, leverage the power of influencers to tap new markets, and remain as personal and active as possible.

    Content as an Exchange

    Conversions are always an opportunity of exchange; in conventional B2C settings, this involves a customer handing over money in exchange for a physical product. The more valuable this product is, the more likely it is that the consumer will partake in the exchange, giving you a critical opportunity to secure more conversions.

    There are two scenarios in which content may be used as the “other half” of this exchange as a standalone value. The first is in a B2B setting, where your company is only after personal information of potential leads. Personal information is valuable, if only mildly, and people won’t part with it unless they know they’re getting something out of the deal. Content, a digital good with infinite replicability, serves the role of exchange here quite well.

    Take HubSpot’s usual eBook offer as an example:

    hubspot optin form design

    (Image Source: Hubspot)

    The other scenario is one in which content is offered as the product in exchange for money, though an even higher standard of quality is demanded here. Still, both scenarios share much in common and can be used to the same ends.

    Key Values

    There are a handful of “must have” features for content you’re using as an exchange for conversion value:

    • Originality. It was true for your onsite and offsite content, but here it’s even more important. Why would someone give you their personal information for an eBook that they can basically read elsewhere on the Internet for free? Original research and new data is imperative here to seal the deal.
    • Practical value. Most people are willing to pay more (or give up more) for something that has a practical value than something that has a passing, or entertainment value. Give them something that could be qualified as an investment; teach them a new skill, or improve their lives in some meaningful way.
    • Exclusivity. You can’t offer an eBook in exchange for personal information, then distribute that same eBook for free to your social media followers. Your content should be an exclusive offer for anyone willing to convert. It’s a way of introducing scarcity value and simultaneously making sure people feel like they got their money’s worth (or in this case, information’s worth).
    • Length. Your eBook or whitepaper can’t be 1,000 words. Don’t stuff your content with fluff, either. Give your audience a long, detailed, yet still-concise piece.
    • Authority. If you want people to follow through with the conversion before reading your piece, you need to convince them that it’s all you say it is. This means showcasing your authority, or otherwise proving that you have the qualifications to make this piece of content worth your visitors’ time. Referencing past works, noting your industry affiliations, and offering up reviews and testimonials are all good ideas here.

    Balancing the Exchange

    This is a tough consideration, since you won’t be dealing with any absolute values, but it’s an important one. Remember, a conversion is all about exchange, so you need to know how valuable each side of the exchange is to maximize the potential payoff.

    For example, if you spent a year of your life doing the research and living the experiences that led you to write this eBook, asking for just a first name and an email address, or asking for $0.99 isn’t going to justify your work. On the other hand, if you invested a minimum in your original research, it isn’t fair to ask your customers for pages of personal information or $29.99.

    There are two good ways to do this. The first is through research—take a look at your competition and see what they’re offering, and what they’re asking for in exchange. Use this comparatively to settle on the value of your own offers and requests.

    The second is through experience. Experiment with different price levels and forms of content to see which prices and offers “stick.”

    Previewing the Content

    Most users won’t be satisfied with your promise that the content they’re about to receive is good enough to make the exchange. They need some kind of proof, or preview. At the same time, you don’t want to give away the secret sauce.

    The solution is to give your users a tease—tell them what types of things they’re going to find in the body of your content, but don’t tell them the exact things they’re going to find. Take a look at how HubSpot handles this, identifying some of the quote contributors without giving away the actual quotes:

    101 Awesome Marketing Quotes

    (Image Source: HubSpot)

    In-Content Calls-to-Action

    The third pillar of content-conversion relationships is probably the most important, as it directly affects your conversion rate in any context, rather than affecting only your inbound traffic figures or being limited to one application. The goal here is to include CTAs within the body of your onsite content, which is already doubling as a means of increasing search visibility and generating inbound traffic.

    In some ways, these CTAs are like any other; they need to be short, compelling, accurate, and persuasive. However, if you want to retain the value and appeal of your content as is, you can’t go the traditional advertising approach in total.

    Take Crazy Egg’s traditional advertisement as an example:

    crazy egg ad

    (Image Source: Crazy Egg/Wordstream)

    This is a good example of an effective CTA, but it’s still an advertisement. This makes the CTA almost confrontational—pinning a user down with a pitch, and forcing them to either convert or depart. Instead, content-based CTAs are softer, and hinge on trust that you’ve already built with the quality and usefulness of your material.

    Topic Selection

    The first hurdle to overcome in maximizing the conversion potential of your content is to choose the right topics. At a glance, this means selecting content topics within your area of expertise that your target market would find useful. For example, if you sell skateboards, it wouldn’t make sense to write content about the best types of office furniture for a startup. It would instead cater to individuals who might be in the market for a new skateboard, covering topics like “how to repair a broken axle” or the even-more-blunt, “how to choose your next skateboard.”

    Try not to make your topics too sales-y, or it will turn people away. Buyer’s guides and product comparison articles are helpful, but if that’s all you put out, people will gradually feel alienated from you. Provide helpful, original material that a prospective buyer might read. Know your sales cycle inside and out, and target people at multiple stages to nurture them to a conversion.

    Three Main Approaches

    Once you’ve properly identified the right types of topics, you’re essentially halfway done with the battle. You’ll have a stream of optimal customer candidates reading your content. Now, your job is to guide them to a successful conversion. You can’t just stick a CTA in the middle of your article, so you have to use a subtler, more tactical approach.

    There are three main approaches to in-content CTAs.

    • The redirect. The redirect encourages users to head to a different section of the site. It doesn’t contain any pitch by itself, but instead compels a reader to discover content that does the “pitching” on another section of the site. For example, let’s say you’re an HR consultant, and you have a dedicated landing page that explains what you do and asks users for personal information. In the body of one of your articles, you may include a reference to something like “this is just one of the many services an HR consultant can offer you,” with a link to your full list of services. Or you might be more direct with a straightforward request like, “for more information, check out my contact page.” This is advantageous because it keeps the primary focus on the value of your content, rather than on the sales pitch, but disadvantageous because it delays the customer’s point of conversion.
    • The casual mention. The casual mention is a discreet way to offer up one of your products or services in the body of your article. For example, if you sell clothing and you’re writing about this year’s biggest fashion trends, you can mention some of your top selling products, along with prices, as a kind of mini-sales-pitch. The same can work for B2B companies; for example, you can write something like, “link building is essential for SEO success, but you may need to hire an agency like AudienceBloom to execute the work professionally.” This is a harder sell, but it still doesn’t deviate far from the core of the article.
    • The sales pitch. The sales pitch is essentially a mini advertisement, usually at the end of the article, that only loosely connects to the body of the article and instead focuses on getting the customer to a point of conversion. For example, at the end of an article on “X common skateboard repairs,” you could have a section with text like, “When you skate, you want the best. Our company offers top-of-the-line skateboards in al styles to make sure you perform your best.” Its weakness is that it deviates from the central value of your content, but it also makes a harder sell.

    Since each of these approaches has distinct advantages and disadvantages, I encourage you to use all three of them in rotation to maximize your potential payoff. If you notice one style outperforming the others, don’t be afraid to switch. Remember, your main priority here is to provide excellent content—if you have a great CTA embedded in an iffy, poorly written article, it isn’t going to land.

    Similarly, you can’t just post a link and hope people will click. Your wording needs to be sharp, concise, compelling, and accurate—like any CTA—if you want your readers to convert.

    Optimization and Improvement

    You don’t have to be satisfied with your traffic, or your conversion rates. In fact, it’s almost a guarantee that your first-draft strategy isn’t going to earn you the best possible results. The only way to improve your campaign is to take careful measurements of your most important metrics, make iterative changes, and then evaluate to see whether or not your changes were effective. Just be careful how you measure and report the differences—you never know how your biases may be affecting how you perceive the results.

    One of the best ways to do this is through ongoing A/B testing. The basic premise of an A/B test is to create nearly identical scenarios, with one small difference between them, to see if one scenario outperforms the other. For example, you might write two highly similar articles with very different CTAs to see if one CTA performs better than the other. You can use this information to maximize the return on your future pieces.

    AB Testing

    (Image Source: VWO)

    You can change virtually anything and see a potential difference, but here’s a short list of ideas for your variables:

    • Content topics, lengths, and target audience. The nature of your content will have a huge bearing on the type of audience who reads your material and their disposition by the time they get to your CTA. Don’t rule out the possibility of targeting a different audience altogether, and look to your competition to get inspiration for new content angles.
    • Syndication channels and framing. There are hundreds of possible channels for you to distribute your content, each with different audience segments and different advantages and disadvantages. Get to know them, and experiment with different channels and angles to maximize your inbound content value.
    • Content previews. This is exclusively for using content as a basis for exchange, but experiment with providing different previews for your offered material.
    • Types of calls-to-action used. Rotate between redirects, casual mentions, and full-blown pitches. You may find that different angles work better for different applications, or that one in particular is ideal for your niche.
    • Wording of calls-to-action used. Of course, you should also experiment with the copy you use in the body of your content to call out your products and services. Tiny differences, sometimes only a word or two, can make the difference. It also pays to change up the language so regular readers don’t get tired of the same message at the end of every piece.

    Think of your content-based conversion strategy as a constant, revolving experiment. The more ways you tinker with it, the more you’ll learn, and the better performance rate you’ll eventually earn.

    Conclusion

    The two variables that affect your total number of conversions are your total inbound traffic and your overall conversion rate. Content, if you know how to wield it, has the potential to influence both. By leveraging the power of content for SEO, offsite reputation building, and social syndication, you’ll maximize your inbound traffic streams. Offering content as part of the conversion exchange can aid your conversion rates on landing pages and specific callouts, while in-content CTAs are your best bet in other applications. In any case, the more you invest in your strategy with quality, focus, research, and ongoing development, the better your content can support your overall conversion goals.

  8. 7 Strategies to Leverage Hummingbird and Related Topics

    Leave a Comment

    Let’s not kid ourselves; Hummingbird is amazing. It’s an algorithm that took Google’s basic keyword-based structure and turned it into something intuitive and more capable of linguistic understanding than most people you’ll ever meet. Now, Google can, for lack of a better phrase, guess what you’re thinking and give you the content that matches your intentions—even if none of your keywords are an exact match for the most relevant results.

    Similarly, RankBrain and other additions have allowed Google to come up with “related questions” and an advanced network of related topics to discern user intent from ambiguous queries, and provide links to helpful related information that similar searchers have required in the past.

    related questions google results

    (Image Source: Moz)

    So how can you take advantage of Hummingbird and related topics in your own content marketing campaign?

    1. Get specific. General topics aren’t going to cut it anymore. The more specific you get with your material, the more likely you’ll be to show up. If a user is searching for general information on a general subject, with a query like “maple trees,” they’re either going to get an immediate Knowledge Graph entry that gives them a breakdown of the subject, or they’ll get referred to a Wikipedia article. On the other hand, extremely specific queries with specific intents will have almost no competition, giving you the advantage when it comes to ranking. Search for specific topics, and write for specific audiences while you’re at it.
    2. Publish interrelated content features. Don’t post single instances of the topics you’re exploring; instead, develop them into a series of related features. For example, instead of just writing about “How to clean an air conditioner,” write that article and follow it up with, “how to repair an air conditioner that won’t run,” or “how to improve the lifespan of an air conditioner.” All of these questions are related topics, so you’ll stand to gain in two key ways. First, you’ll be seen as a greater authority in this space, and second, you’ll have a higher likelihood of showing up in “related questions” for users interested in these subjects.
    3. Go deeper with your content. This is an easy strategy, but it’s one you should have been doing a long time ago. When taking advantage of Hummingbird, thin content isn’t going to cut it. Hummingbird does a thorough evaluation of the phrases and details within the entire body of your content—the more details you include, and the more subtopics and related ideas you cover, the better the algorithm will be able to “understand” your work. It’s also a best practice for content in general—it makes you stand out from the crowd, gives people more information to peruse, and shows that you’ve done your research thoroughly.
    4. Check out Related Questions. Where better to learn how Google categorizes different topics than on Google itself? Run a sample search for a query related to some of your recent content, and see what pops up in the “related questions” section. Who’s covering those topics now? How are they covering them? Look for any opportunity to cover one of these related topics with your own work in the future, and try to capitalize on any weaknesses you see in the work that currently shows up for these queries.
    5. Forget about keywords (mostly). Keywords aren’t dead—at least not entirely. Even though Google isn’t using keywords on a strict, one-to-one basis, they can be good contextual clues for the subjects of your work. Keep keyword research as an element of your SEO campaign—take a look to see what keywords have the highest volume and the lowest competition rating, and include the most promising candidates throughout your work. However, stay away from picking content topics based solely on your keyword research, and as always, never stuff keywords into your content.
    6. Diversify your vocabulary. With more users relying on casual queries and vocal search, the range of vocabulary in user queries has expanded and become much more conversational. If you want your content to be indexed thoroughly, and for subjects peripherally related to your main targets, you’ll do well to diversify the type of vocabulary you use. Part of that means having a bigger list of potential keywords to target, and part of that means avoiding using the same phrases or terminologies over and over again. Shake things up!
    7. See what your competitors are up to. This is another strategy that’s good to adopt in general, but especially useful in the context of Hummingbird and semantic search. Take a look to see what types of content your competitors are publishing, and which pieces seem to be getting the best results. Are there any related topics that they aren’t taking advantage of, such as follow-up opportunities, alternative positions, or expansions? These could be a good way to get a competitive edge, especially since you already know the root subject has been popular with your shared demographics.

    Google’s search algorithm is now too sophisticated for any kind of measurable, predictable, one-to-one gain. That is to say, you’ll never be able to calculate, on paper, the potential visibility for one of your content ideas. However, by employing these tactics (in addition to standard content and SEO best practices), you’ll stand to benefit more from Google’s semantic understanding and desire to provide users with comprehensive information.

  9. How to Write Clearer, Simpler, and Faster in Any Niche

    Leave a Comment

    No matter what industry you’re in or who your target demographics are, a powerful writing style will take your brand to the next level. For most modern online brands, this means using a combination of strong copy on your website and traditional ads as well as developing an ongoing content marketing strategy with a blog and peripheral content materials. As general advice goes, the better the content strategy, the happier your customers will be.

    There are dozens of ways to make your content strategy better, including doing better research, knowing your demographics more intimately, and including more multimedia content in your strategy; these would all serve as interesting, separate topics. Today I want to focus on three critical writing skills that apply to everyone, in any niche: clarity, simplicity, and efficiency.

    Clearer, Simpler, and Faster

    Why these three specific qualities of writing? Let’s break this down.

    The effectiveness of your content strategy is going to depend on dozens of interrelated factors. But what does it mean to be effective? It means communicating your message in a way that makes sense for your audience, and earning a positive ROI while doing so. Choosing the right audience and choosing the right message are both important, but they don’t have much to do with your writing style, or the literal process of writing.

    When it comes to the actual writing process, much depends on the industry and format—for example, a BuzzFeed-style post in the news industry might require different techniques than menu descriptions for a local donut shop. Based on this fact and the eliminative process I used above, I can think of three main categories of factors that influence the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of your approach.

    • Writing clearer is about getting your message across as completely as possible. This means diminishing the opportunities for misinterpretation and leaving “no stone unturned” when it comes to the thoroughness of your work.
    • Writing simpler is about conciseness. With decreasing attention spans and increasing competition for content, the winning articles tend to be those who pack the most amount of punch in the smallest amount of space.
    • Writing faster is about producing more, higher quality work in a shorter amount of time and with a smaller degree of effort. Over time, this will result in fewer expenditures (both time and money) and earn you a higher ROI overall.

    Tailoring Advice to Your Niche

    The advice I dispense throughout this article will apply, in principle, to any business’s content marketing strategy in any niche. Taken at face value, they’ll be applicable to straightforward forms of content (such as blogs, whitepapers, and eBooks), and much of it can be applied to other forms of content, such as personal emails, social media posts, or even web copy.

    However, it’s important for you to realize that every business and every niche is different, and that you may need to make some adjustments to make this work for your brand. For example, if your brand voice is casual and informal, striving for too much conciseness could make you come across as stuffy or unapproachable. Similarly, while clarity is always a good thing, the type of clarity you need may depend on your audience—for example, if your demographics are expressly familiar with your industry, you’ll need to explain fewer terms and get to your main points faster.

    With those caveats out of the way, let’s take a look at the ways you can make your writing better all-around.

    Clarity

    Clear writing is writing that communicates all of your intentions with as few ambiguities and as many details as possible. It’s not a new phenomenon; companies have been striving for better clarity for decades, and it’s always been a part of academia.

    Clear Writing

    (Image Source: Hubspot)

    You could just strive to “write clearer,” but that isn’t a specific or actionable strategy. Instead, let’s take a look at specific ways you can increase the clarity of your writing.

    Front-Loading

    Front-loading is the process of including more relevant information earlier on in your writing. It’s important for several reasons, and manifests in multiple different ways. For example, you can front-load an entire article by putting your most relevant information in the headline of your piece, or you can front-load a single sentence by leveraging the most useful and/or necessary information in your first few words. Why do this?

    • Attention. Your readers’ attention spans are short, valuable, and fragile. Many of them will only skim over your article, but almost all of them will catch the earliest information in your headline, intro, paragraphs, and sentences. Front-loading takes advantage of this, and gets your message to the greatest possible number of people.
    • Context. Writing is a process of introduction and clarification; just as this sentence illustrates, your job is to introduce a topic and then explain how or why it’s relevant. Introducing your main point earlier gives readers a grounding of context before they move on to your examples.
    • Memory. Introducing your valuable information earlier on gives you a chance to strengthen the overall memorability of your message, especially if you repeat that message tastefully in the rest of your work.

    The most important opportunities for front-loading exist in your headlines, sub-headers, and topic sentences.

    Organization

    The organization of your article is also necessary to communicate your points clearly. Again, there are a number of reasons for this.

    A casual reader or skimmer will be able to browse the article from a distance and pick out precisely the information he/she needs with minimal effort. In-depth readers will appreciate the logical flow of one idea to the next. During the writing process, it can even help you flesh out some of your most important ideas. Take a look at how the simple topic breakdown of the Wikipedia page for the Beatles immediately makes the long, complex page more decipherable and approachable:

    Wikipedia

    (Image Source: Wikipedia)

    This should be your goal, though you don’t need to have a strict table of contents like this. Throughout your article, you’ll want to hit on the main points of organization quality:

    • Logical transitions. Don’t include points randomly, and don’t use non-sequiturs to jump from one topic to another. Even a casual reader should be able to identify why your sections exist as they do, and feel comfortable shifting from one to the other.
    • Deliberate order. If you can rearrange the list of sub-topics you present in your article, you’ve probably done something wrong. There should be a meaningful and deliberate order to your sub-sections, even if that just means including your most valuable points at the end of the article.
    • Framing. Your introduction and conclusion are the most powerful parts of your article; use them wisely.

    This should be one of the first things you accomplish for your article, since you can do it during the outline process and it basically dictates everything else in your piece.

    Formatting

    The formatting of your article can also lend some serious clarity to your piece overall. Though some elements of formatting and organization are somewhat interchangeable, there is a truly significant distinction; organization refers to your choice and order of broad topics, while formatting refers to how you present those topics in a visual format.

    For example, breaking up your content into paragraphs of related, short sentences is far better than leaving your audience exhausted with long, rambling blocks of text. Similarly, bulleted and numbered lists offer concise, punctuated items that represent or verify your arguments, and using bold and italics can help you make certain elements of your sentences stand out.

    Formatting serves two important functions; it gives skimmers a chance to get the gist of your article, and gives other readers a “recap” that helps them return to and better understand a given section. With this in mind, your biggest job in formatting is making sure you select the best parts of your content to emphasize.

    Specificity

    Even topics that offer well-organized subtopics and decent formatting can fall victim to ambiguity if you don’t offer enough specific information to your readers. “Specific” here can mean a few different things, so I’ll explore them.

    First, specific means deliberate. Your word choices have a powerful effect on how your content is interpreted, so be choosy and only use the words that communicate your ideas best. A perfect example of this is the difference between passive voice, which uses indirect references, and active voice, which uses direct references:

    passive and active voices

    (Image Source: Writing Commons)

    Notice how all the passive phrases sound clunky and awkward, and how most of them make you think, if even for an extra second, to fully understand the phrase. The active phrase counterparts are much more straightforward and accessible.

    Second, specific means precise. Don’t use vague words or generalities when you can substitute highly targeted words and phrases for them. For example, don’t say “a lot of companies” when you could substitute something like “80 percent of companies.” Even if you don’t have access to this data, you can use more specific terms like “the majority of companies I’ve worked with” or “most B2B companies.” Leave no room for misinterpretation.

    Illustrations

    The human mind is programmed for abstract thought; it’s easier for us to think in metaphors, illustrations, comparisons, and ideas than it is to think in words and numbers. While improving the specificity of your writing is important, it only appeals to the “words and numbers” part of the brain. If you want to make your ideas as clear as possible, you need to appeal to that intuitive, abstract part as well.

    The best way to do this is with illustrations. You can take this literally and include things like charts and diagrams in the body of your work, but don’t underestimate the value of a good metaphor. For example, Einstein’s theory of general relativity is mathematically complex and almost inaccessible to the average person, but as soon as you liken the curvature of spacetime in the presence of massive objects to a bowling ball warping a taut rubber sheet, it starts to make sense.

    Don’t worry about the details here; your illustrations are not meant to be taken literally, nor are they going to be the only means your audience has of understanding your ideas. Instead, think of them as a complementary service, like condiments at a hot dog stand.

    Simplicity

    Next, we move onto simplicity. There’s significant overlap between clarity and simplicity, since the clearest writing is often simple by default. However, these are independent ideas, and if you want your content to be as effective as possible, you’ll need to simplify your message drastically.

    Take a look at this ad from Dove:

    Dove Ad

    (Image Source: Coull)

    This ad actually sacrifices some clarity by refusing to elaborate on the details of its intentions. Instead, a simple pairing of words is enough to convey the powerful idea behind this campaign—and that makes it all the more effective.

    Just as long, rambling jokes often fail to be as clever as basic one-liners, simple content outperforms weighty content almost every time. How can you accomplish this for your own writing?

    Focus

    First, make sure your focus is in the right place. You should have a clear goal for your article, even if it’s a “general” topic, or one that wanders to several different areas. Do this: try and reduce your entire article to a single sentence, or a single point that you’re trying to make. If you can’t do it, your article might be too broad, or you might need to find a way to make an argument, rather than just blindly stating facts.

    Once you have this, consider it your “keystone.” Theoretically, every word of your article should in some way point back to this keystone statement. Every sentence should either present, illustrate, or confirm a point that eventually leads back to your overall argument—if it doesn’t, it probably doesn’t need to be there.

    You can also create “keystones” for each of your sub-sections, or even each of your paragraphs. Doing so will help you stay focused and avoid deviating from the most important parts of your content.

    Strong Words

    There are over one million words in the English language. If you’re spewing thoughts from the top of your head, chances are you’re not coming up with the best possible choices and combinations. You don’t have to agonize over every word in your article, but making even a handful of simple swaps can make your content simpler and more elegant.

    For example, which is more appealing to you as a reader: “The CEO’s mistake was an especially bad one, and because he made it, there were a number of serious consequences for the company” or “The CEO’s egregious mistake was devastating for the company.” Most would select the latter as being simpler and more effective, partially due to using stronger descriptive words, and partially due to cutting out the fluff (which I’ll touch on momentarily). Don’t be afraid to consult a thesaurus, as long as you double check to ensure you’re using each new word appropriately.

    Moving On

    With the knowledge that long-form content tends to attract more shares and links than their shot-form counterparts, many businesses have exhausted themselves trying to beef up every section of their content. However, you don’t need to do this—and you probably shouldn’t.

    When you expand the individual sections of your article, your goal should be completing your point fully and efficiently. As soon as you’ve reached a definitive conclusion, it’s time to move on to the next section. This will prevent you from providing too many examples (yes, it is a thing), rambling for too long, or obscuring your original point with unnecessary additions.

    There’s no easy way to tell when your section is complete, other than by judging your content compared to your original point. Have you given your readers everything they need to get your main takeaway? If so, leave it at that.

    Cutting the Fluff

    Everyone writes fluff, whether they realize it or not. It’s a natural human tendency; our word selection processes aren’t perfect, and even if they were, we’d still often write or speak too fast for our perfectionistic selection processes to keep up. As a result, we write filler words, filler sentences, and include unnecessary modifiers in our work.

    These aren’t inherently damaging, since they aren’t detracting from your main point. However, they can obscure your main point by making it harder to find (a “diamond in the rough” effect), and if you include enough of them, they’ll bring the value per word of your content down, possibly reducing your readers’ perceptions of your content value overall.

    This effect manifests in a handful of ways. Redundancy is one of the most common offenders (using synonyms or repeating your meaning in other words), and while it won’t kill your meaning, it will make your work seem sloppy and unpolished:

    Repetitive Words

    (Image Source: Writing Commons)

    Other forms of “fluff” include meaningless modifiers like “a lot,” or “very,” and extended definitions of concepts that require only a concise description.

    Again, we all write fluff, so it’s hard to simply stop writing it. Instead of avoiding it, let it come out naturally and try not to overthink it. Then, when your draft is finished, you can go back and edit your material. Look at your work on a sentence-by-sentence level and ask yourself, “is this a necessary phrase? Is this a necessary word?” You’ll find more fluff than you bargained for, but over time you’ll naturally become a more concise writer.

    Efficiency

    While clarity and simplicity are about making sure your writing is effective in delivering a message, efficiency is about making sure your writing is worth the effort you put into it. To put it bluntly, the less time you spend on a knockout piece, the more return on your investment (ROI) it’s going to yield.

    The massive caveat to this is that your content must be high-quality. Never sacrifice the quality of your content to save time or money.

    With that out of the way, there are general “efficiency” strategies you can use to make yourself a more productive person in general, or “hack” your mind to becoming more focused and more alert. For example, you can turn off your message notifications to zero in on your most important work.

    Email Icon iPhone

    (Image Source: Specialmompreneurs)

    I’m not going to get into these strategies. There are plenty of articles on the subject, including ones I’ve written (linked above). Instead, I want to focus on strategies that will exclusively help you become a better, more efficient writer—helping you produce more work in less time without sacrificing any of your quality.

    Collecting a Team

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, good marketing is a team sport. If you have trouble coming up with ideas, get a few of your coworkers to chip in a few topic ideas. If you have lots of ideas, but can’t pick a good one, ask your coworkers for feedback. Fill your staff with other writers and marketers who know your demographics and know your brand—they’ll be able to help you come up with new directions and perfect your approaches. Even five minutes of someone’s time is often enough to help you break through a plateau you’ve encountered on your own.

    Additionally, don’t be afraid to reach outside your company. Talk to peers, influencers, partners, and mentors within your industry and those who share similar content goals. Mingling like this will help you avoid “stale” ideas, and will give you enough inspiration to keep moving through even the toughest episodes of writer’s block.

    Setting Up a Research Stream

    Most content marketers will tell you that the vast majority of their work comes in the research and planning phase; once they’ve collected all the information they need to create a good post, the actual writing process is somewhat simple. Therefore, reducing the amount of time it takes to research will definitively reduce the total time to write any given article.

    How can you do this without just decreasing the amount of research you do?

    Create ongoing streams of research and habits that keep your reading list full and your mind topped off with potential ideas. For starters, sign up for a blog reader app like Feedly, and select publishers and industries that are relevant to your brand. You’ll get top headlines to read every morning, which you can turn into an ongoing research habit. Take notes on topics that interest you and set them aside if you want to develop them in the future; it only takes a few minutes per day, but soon you’ll end up with more ready-to-go research than you know what to do with.

    You can also create research streams on social media, with your coworkers (see previous section), or in your company’s research department—the key is to start getting these topics and data automatically, so you can spare yourself the trouble of seeking it out manually.

    Always Be Writing

    Don’t think of writing as something you sit down to do for X number of hours, to stop only once the article is complete. Instead, try adapting your mind to write on a constant basis. Think through your spoken sentences as if you were drafting them, self-editing for clarity and simplicity, and when you’re stuck in traffic, or you’re out for a walk, let your mind brainstorm about possible topics.

    This open brainstorming will help you find better ways of communicating, and will help you explore new ideas at a leisurely pace, rather than trying to forcefully extract them all at once in a single session. Plus, you’ll get the perks of better communication in other areas of your life.

    Developing a Routine

    While writing is an area where new experiences and new perspectives can introduce new ideas and angles to your work, it also pays to develop a routine. Every day, you should start by reviewing some news and research, and every time you start a new article, you should have a repeatable process for how to do so effectively. This won’t happen all at once; you’ll encounter strategies that consistently work and strategies that consistently fail. Only by adjusting them and building a better overall process will you be able to consistently produce better material at a faster pace.

    The Assembly Line

    This is one example of a routine, or repeatable process you can use to write faster. It doesn’t work for everybody, nor is it guaranteed to help you write faster or better, but it does make the process more streamlined when you start managing lots of pieces at once.

    There are many stages of the content development process; research, outlining, drafting, polishing, publishing, and syndicating. Rather than following this sequence for every available piece, try to operate as an assembly line for greater efficiency; do all the research for all your posts, then all the outlining, then all the drafting, and so on. You could even delegate certain stages of this process to individuals of your team who excel at them, divvying up the process like a real assembly line.

    Bringing It All Together

    If you start implementing all (or most) of the strategies I’ve covered in this guide, I guarantee your writing will become clearer, simpler, and faster—I just can’t guarantee that it will come all at once. Like with the development of any skill, writing improvement takes time, and you’ll run into some obstacles along the way. Try to think of these recommendations as a loose guide for development, rather than a rigid checklist or dogmatic list of rules. Through trial and error, you’ll learn to apply them to your niche and your own personal style in a way that maximizes your efficiency, and at the end of it, you’ll walk away with more powerful pieces of content in every form you publish.

  10. Hidden Biases in Reporting Metrics You Need to Avoid

    Leave a Comment

    Human beings aren’t perfect thinkers. We like to imagine ourselves as logical, straightforward problem solvers, but the reality is, most of the time we’re afflicted with hidden biases and misconceptions that completely skew our interpretations of even the most objective data. When we look at a set of data, or observe something in its natural environment, we form concrete judgments that then shape our interactions with those items. And from a practical standpoint, we’re good at it; the human brain has evolved to detect patterns easily as a survival mechanism.

    This mechanism is oversensitive and flawed, resulting many of the biases I’m about to go over. In our everyday lives, they might not bear much impact, but in the realm of marketing and advertising, objective data is crucial. If these biases are affecting your interpretations of otherwise objective data sets, you could wind up presenting faulty information to your clients, or worse, adjusting your campaign to grow in the wrong direction.

    Why Bias Compensation Matters

    Fortunately, you don’t have to become a slave to your biases. There’s no way to reprogram your brain and avoid them altogether, but there are strategies you can put into place to make it harder for these biases to affect your work. Think of it as a kind of handicapping or adjustment system; for example, if you know the wind is blowing to the east on the golf course, you might align your shot to the west of where you want the ball to actually go. This doesn’t eliminate the wind as a factor, but it does help you get the results you need with only a minor adjustment. Otherwise, your shot will end up blowing far to the east of where you need it to land.

    There’s one big problem with this golf metaphor, and that’s the fact that you’ll realize your shot is off course once you complete it; in the marketing realm, if you interpret your metrics incorrectly, you may never learn this fact.

    Take a look at this optical illusion as an effective demonstration of how bias can mess with your mind:

    illusion

    (Image Source: Nerdist)

    Compare the center square of the side panel to the center square of the top panel. Most people will argue that the side square appears to be a bright orange, while the top square appears to be a dull brown. If I stopped writing here, many of you would continue to believe that.

    However, the reality is that both squares are exactly the same color. If you cover up the surrounding colored squares, which trick your brain into overcompensating for lighting conditions, you’ll see this to be true. This process is the kind of “bias correction” I’m talking about; without it, you’ll end up misinterpreting your data, but with it, you can come to a more accurate conclusion.

    Types of Biases

    There are two types of biases I’m going to cover in this guide, though the second isn’t technically a “bias” in the formal definition. Both can have a dramatic effect on how you see and interpret data, so you’ll need to account for both whenever you measure or report metrics for a given campaign.

    • Cognitive Biases. The first type is classic cognitive biases. These are inherent in the vast majority of the population, though they offer differing degrees of influence depending on the individual and the scenario. Think of these as situations that exploit natural, otherwise valuable processes in the brain; in the color example above, it’s a good thing that our brains can naturally account for the presence of light and shadow. However, it results in skewed perceptions. The same applies to the following example—which line is shorter?

    cognitive biases

    (Image Source: Brain Bashers)

    There are countless sub-types of biases, and I’ll be exploring some of the most relevant for modern marketers.

    • Misconceptions and Misinterpretations. I also consider it a kind of bias that leads us to misinterpret the true “meaning” of a metric. Thanks to modern technology, we have access to far more data than we would have thought possible just a decade ago. That doesn’t mean that every data point has a clear definition, or that it’s easy to understand. Many similar metrics share similar names, but offer very distinct views on your campaign. Similarly, one miscommunication between team members can lead to very different interpretations of the same idea:

    customer expectations

    (Image Source: Connexin)

    Let’s start by taking a look at some of the most common cognitive biases that can affect your interpretation of metrics.

    Cognitive Biases

    This list is not comprehensive; there are a startling number of cognitive biases that can affect your reasoning, social behavior, and even your memory. However, I’ve captured the majority of biases that can affect how your mind finds, dissects, and interprets marketing results. In each subsection, I’ll describe the bias and detail strategies you can use to compensate for it.

    Confirmation Bias

    First up is confirmation bias, one of the most commonly recognized cognitive biases. This phenomenon holds that once an individual has settled on a specific belief, they will seek out and/or favor any information that leads them to “confirm” that belief, and avoid and/or demerit any information that contradicts that belief. For example, take the strange dress that became a sensation over social media a while back:

    strange dress

    (Image Source: LinkedIn)

    The center picture is the original, with the two on either side showcasing the dress with different lighting and filters. The middle pic generated responses describing it as either gold and white or blue and black. Users that encountered one definition often saw the dress as being those colors, not realizing that the visual information in the photo was ambiguous.

    In the context of a marketing campaign, this can happen when you’ve pre-formed a conclusion about one of your strategies. For example, you might assume that your new content strategy is doing well because you’ve invested a lot of time and money into it. You might then only look at data points that confirm this assumption; let’s say you’re getting a lot more comments and sparking new conversations. But you might ignore or overlook contradictory data points, such as lower organic traffic numbers.

    To compensate for this, select which metrics you’ll measure to determine success before you even flesh out a strategy. Then, remain consistent with this set of metrics and remain as objective as possible in their analysis—even if the numbers contradict your instincts.

    Selection Bias

    The selection bias is usually relegated to surveys, which depend on an ample, random sample of participants in order to be considered unbiased and effective. A selection bias would be some improper procedure that led to a pool of participants slanting the results in one direction or another. For example, if you only interview people in Idaho for a national-level survey, you’re going to receive answers that disproportionately represent an Idaho resident.

    If you’re conducting surveys for your marketing campaign (such as gathering data about your audience’s content preferences), the possible effects here are obvious—if you select a narrow or skewed pool of participants, your data will be inherently unreliable. But this also applies to data you might pull in Google Analytics.

    For example, if you’re poking around to different sections, you might find that your “general” traffic visits an average of three internal pages before leaving. From this, you could form the conclusion that your site is effective at enticing people further in—but what about just your social traffic? If your social visitors often bounce after the first page, it could be an indication that your blog posts (or other social links) aren’t as effective at piquing that curiosity.

    Anchoring                                                               

    The anchoring effect has everything to do with what you encounter before encountering a certain event (or in this case, a certain metric). Because our minds are wired for comparisons, whenever we hear a numerical value, we instantly compare future numerical values to it—even if those numbers are completely unrelated.

    Take a look at the following cartoon as an example:

    the anchoring effect

    (Image Source: Wealth Informatics)

    Both participants are essentially generating random numbers—the last digits of their SSNs. When asked what they’d estimate for an identical bottle of wine, the person with the higher number will generally estimate it to be a higher value.

    This can happen in your metrics reporting, too. For example, let’s say you recently read an article that boasted a 300 percent improvement in ROI after making a simple change to a marketing campaign. If you notice a 30 percent growth rate in your own traffic, you might think it’s pretty low. Conversely, if you hear someone complain about a terribly low conversion rate—like a fraction of a percent—that 30 percent growth figure might start looking pretty good.

    Irrational Escalation

    Irrational escalation, sometimes known as escalation of commitment, is a bias that has less to do with how you report or interpret metrics, and more about what you do with your conclusions from there. Under this bias, individuals have a greater likelihood of taking some strong action if they’ve taken some related weak action in the past.

    The typical example is the “dollar auction” game, in which a one-dollar bill is auctioned off before a group. Anybody can bid any amount they want for the dollar. At the end of the game, the winner gets the one-dollar bill for whatever amount they bid for it, but there’s one twist—the second-place finisher must pay his/her final bid to the auctioneer without getting the dollar in return. Invariably, bids escalate far beyond the dollar value of the one-dollar bill; this is because once you’re committed to a certain idea, or a certain strategy, it’s easy to incrementally invest just “a little bit more,” even if it becomes irrational at some point.

    What’s the practical takeaway here? Let’s say you’ve invested in a certain marketing strategy for many months now, and you’ve seen decent results, but the past few months have been slow to the point that you’re barely breaking even on it. The irrational escalation bias would have you continue investing in it, since you’ve already come this far, even if there is no proof of future benefits. The only way to defeat this bias is to weigh the pros and cons of each strategy, even the ones you’re used to, with objective, preferably numerical evidence.

    The Overconfidence Effect

    All of us are desperately and irredeemably overconfident. I’m not talking about your self-esteem or your comfort levels in various social situations; I’m talking about your tendency to estimate your own perceptions. Everyone believes they are better than average at making decisions and answering questions, in almost any scenario.

    Because of this, marketers often believe they know more about data analysis than they actually do, and believe themselves to be better decision makers than they actually are. What happens is this: a marketer will look at the data, form a conclusion about it, and then stick with that conclusion without exploring any other possibilities. In general, there are too many unknowns for any one definitive conclusion to hold.

    To compensate for this, bring more minds into your analysis and discussion. Each person will be overconfident about his/her own analytical ability, but together, you’ll be able to make up for each other’s weaknesses and come to a more uniform conclusion.

    Essentialism

    Essentialism is a complex cognitive bias that permeates our life in profound, and sometimes horrible ways. Its name derives from the root word “essence” because it reflects a natural human tendency to reduce complex topics and ideas down to their barest essence. This is important during the early stages of learning and development, where abstraction is difficult and acquisition is imperative, but later on in life, this gives us the nasty tendency to categorize things, places, and people based on what we know about other things, places, and people. It’s at least partially responsible for stereotypes and prejudices.

    In a far less serious offense, essentialism is also responsible for causing marketers to over-generalize or categorize certain types of metrics. For example, they might believe that bounce rate is inherently “bad” and therefore, bounce rates should always be lower—even though people bouncing might be a good thing if they aren’t a part of your target demographics to begin with.

    There’s no easy way to stop your mind from wandering in this direction, but you can strive for neutrality by treating every metric as having both positive and negative traits; see each metric for what it is without trying to reduce it to a universally “good” or “bad” position. This is especially important for traits relating to user behavior, which is qualitative and at times, unpredictable.

    Optimism Bias

    Optimism Bias

    (Image Source: Masmi)

    I think we all know what optimism bias is like. We’ve all felt it in one application or another, and most of us still experience it throughout our daily lives. No, this has nothing to do with whether you consider yourself an “optimist” or “pessimist” in general—instead, it’s a well-documented psychological phenomenon that applies to most people.

    The biggest effect here is that people inherently believe they are less likely than average to experience bad events, especially if they’re rare. Most people never think they’ll be robbed, or that their house will catch fire, or that they’ll lose their job. But people still do.

    In the marketing world, this usually refers to PR disasters. Most brands never give a second thought to the idea that their social media statistics are tanking because of a foolish comment they made some time earlier, or believe their drop in organic traffic could be because of a serious penalty. The fact is, these things happen, even to smart, well-planned brands and strategies. Don’t count yourself out of the possibility here.

    Group Attribution Errors

    The fundamental group attribution error results when you see the behavior of a single person, and immediately project that person’s traits to the entire group. For example, at a bar you might see a group of people at a nearby table and one of them is particularly obnoxious, yelling and screaming. Many would then immediately assume that the entire group is obnoxious, rather than just the one individual.

    In the reporting sense, this can also apply, depending on how wide your measurements are and whether you use any instances of anecdotal evidence. For example, let’s say you wrote a knockout piece of content and a handful of users took to commenting actively on it. Generally, comments are a good sign that your piece was interesting or valuable enough for your readers to engage with, but can you make this assumption for the entire group, or was it just a handful of weirdos who you happened to snag?

    This isn’t to say that small population samples are inherently useless—they can be valuable, and they can represent the whole. What’s important to remember is that they don’t always represent the whole, and you need to compensate for this by looking at bigger samples.

    meme

     

    (Image Source: The Rad Group)

    The bottom line for most of these biases is that you shouldn’t take anything at face value, or trust your instincts too much. Most of your instincts are based on evolutionarily advantageous cognitive functions, which means when it comes to the logic and math of statistical analysis, our minds can’t be trust. Treat everything with a secondary degree of scrutiny.

    Misconceptions and Misinterpretations

    As if all those cognitive biases weren’t enough, there are cases where we don’t even define our metrics accurately. Forget confirmation bias—if you’re looking at one metric thinking it’s another, your numbers are wrong anyway. This section is designed to clear up some of the most common points of confusion for web traffic and social media metrics, but make no mistake—this is far from comprehensive. You owe it to yourself to double check your interpretation of every metric you measure; even one differing word can compromise an entire construct.

    Google Analytics

    Google Analytics is free, easy to navigate, and reliable, but that doesn’t mean it’s always straightforward. Take a look at some of the discrepancies you might find here.

    • Bounce rate and exit rate. If you try to think about it conceptually, bounce rate and exit rate sound identical. They’re even right next to each other on Analytics’s default dashboard, but as you can see below, they can be very different. Basically, the exit rate only applies to users for whom the page in question was the last of their session. Bounce rate refers to users for whom the page in question was the first and only of their session.

    bounce and exit rate

    • Visitors, visits, and page views. What’s the difference between a visit and a page view? Can you tell me without basically repeating yourself? As it turns out, a “visit” occurs when a user accesses your website from an external URL, and ends when that user is inactive for 30 minutes or more (or if they leave your site). A page view, on the other hand, is counted whenever a person loads—or reloads—a page on your site. Therefore, it’s possible for one experience to count as one visit and multiple views. Visits are also referred to as “sessions.”

    Sessions

    • Segmentation. It’s also easy to misinterpret defined metrics when you’ve segmented your traffic improperly (or haven’t segmented it at all). Sometimes, you’ll want to look at a “general audience,” and other times you’ll want to drill down to something more specific, like users who found you through search or through social media—but it’s important to know the difference. Take a look at how different Direct and Organic traffic results can be:

    Segmentation

    Keyword Rankings

    • Internal traffic. You may also be skewing your numbers by allowing internal traffic to be reported in Google Analytics. Technically, you haven’t misinterpreted the meaning of a metric here, but you might be severely overestimating how many people are actually coming to your site. Fortunately, it’s easy to set up a filter that will keep you from tracking all your coworkers and partners who access the site on a daily basis (but aren’t a part of your target demographics).

    To start, head to the admin tab and select “Filters.”

    Internal Traffic

    This will give you the opportunity to “create” a new filter; there are several filter types to choose from, but usually you’ll want to go for one that filters users based on IP address or ISP information. This will keep Analytics from tracking information from any of the users you specify.

    add filter

    • The numbers game. Finally, remember that numbers are just numbers. Your bounce rate might be high, but that doesn’t mean everyone who left wasn’t interested in your page. Your click-through rates from social might be good, but that doesn’t mean people liked your content. It’s tempting to reduce everything to objective metrics, but important to recognize those objective metrics for what they are.

    Social Media

    Next, there are a few social media metrics that require exploration.

    • Likes (or follows). No matter what platform you’re on, there’s some metric that tells you how many people are interested in your brand. Most brands thrive on this figure, either bragging about how many followers they have or complaining that they need more “likes.” However, don’t let this metric deceive you; it doesn’t accurately reflect how people actually feel toward your brand, which is far more important in the long run.
    • Page Insights. Most social platforms offer page insights, or something similar, which will tell you how many people have seen or clicked through your material. Be careful here; an “impression” doesn’t always correlate with a person actually seeing your post—it just means it populated in their newsfeed. A vague “click” could mean any kind of interaction, even reporting the post. Dig into what these deceptively ambiguous metrics actually mean before drawing any important conclusions from them, and remember, every social platforms is going to be a bit different—that’s why I don’t dig into any specific platform metrics here.

    Page Insights

    (Image Source: Facebook)

    • Engagements. Finally, engagements—such as post likes, shares, and comments, are all important and valuable, but don’t try and reduce them to a purely quantitative value. For example, an article that earns 1,000 shares can be considered to be popular, but this doesn’t reflect how bold an impression it made on the people who shared it—they could have shared it just because of the clever title. Similarly, don’t take comments as a sure indication that these people are fans of your brand, and don’t assume that every “like” means that someone read and enjoyed your piece. Take these engagement metrics with a grain of salt.

    Comparison Errors

    As a general rule, the way you compare metrics to one another holds a lot of power over the conclusions you’ll eventually reach. For example, it’s critically important for you to take “apples to apples” measurements. If you’re going to evaluate your progress in a certain area, you need to replicate your measurement conditions as precisely as possible; for example, if you’re looking at the bounce rate for organic visitors over the course of a month, you can’t compare that to the bounce rate of social visitors over the course of a different month. This is akin to comparing apples to oranges. Allow only one variable between your compared metrics, such as month in question or type of traffic—when you introduce two, the comparison crumbles.

    Communication

    Recognize that your communicative ability has a strong bearing on how others interpret metrics. One wrong or misleading word about how a specific metric should be read could compromise a person’s interpretation of that metric for the foreseeable future. This is especially important with clients; you want them to have the clearest, most objective view possible, so remain diligent and consistent from the beginning to give them the full and accurate picture of your marketing metrics.

    Utility and Value

    There are two important takeaways regarding the utility and value of measurement and analysis I need to address. Thus far, my guide may have you believing that measurements are inherently inaccurate, or that they aren’t worth pursuing, but this is far from the case. Measurement and analysis are crucial if you want your business to stay alive. What truly matters is how you approach them:

    First, your measurements are only worthwhile if they’re objective. And to make things worse, it’s incredibly hard to be objective (as you’ve seen in my list of cognitive biases). If you allow your instincts or your preconceived notions to take over, then your metrics become like a mirror—you only see what you want to see. Data should be a tool for you to answer important questions, not a means of self-affirmation.

    Second, don’t base everything off of numbers. The numbers are objective, that’s true, but thanks to modern technology, there are too many numbers. Data can be manipulated to tell you almost anything, and thanks to human imperfection, it’s practically impossible to ever come up with a completely unbiased, objective conclusion about anything. What’s important here is maintaining a healthy degree of confidence; feel free to use your metrics and numbers to form conclusions, but in the back of your mind should always be a shade of doubt. Analytics aren’t perfect; accept that.

    Final Takeaways

    Though my hope was to create a detailed and valuable guide, I know this is inherently not a comprehensive one. To create a truly comprehensive guide on human bias and the tendency for errors in marketing would require far more resources than I have and, quite possibly, more knowledge about the human mind than we currently hold.

    If there’s one bottom-line takeaway from this guide, it’s this: no matter how reliable your data is, it still requires a human mind for interpretation, and human minds are fallible. You can reduce this fallibility (as you should), but you can’t eliminate it, so instead expect it, compensate for it, and don’t let it compromise your campaign.

Success! We've just sent an email containing a download link for your selected resource. Please check your spam folder if you don't receive it within 5 minutes. Enjoy!

Love,

-The AudienceBloom Team