Ad Age Content Marketing Finalists Are Ads. It’s Wrong and It Matters.

First – a preface. The following post is a bit of a rant, and it’s mostly directed at me. Mea culpa here. We at CMI are self-described evangelists of the approach and philosophy of content marketing. We care. And I quite frankly have built a career about getting it right. When others don’t, that responsibility lies squarely upon our shoulders.

The irony is obvious. It’s not that they don’t get it. It’s that we haven’t made them care about getting it. In other words – it’s our story – but we haven’t told it as well as we could.

Now that said … this one is irksome.

On Monday, Ad Age, the 90-year-old magazine covering marketing, advertising, and media released the finalists for its Ad Age A-List and Creativity Awards. They open by saying:

It’s the moment the industry has been waiting for: the Ad Age A-List & Creativity Awards finalists. These awards honor the forward-thinking leaders, top agencies and creative innovators in the industry today. The Agency and Production Company A-Lists are handpicked by the Ad Age editorial staff, who comb through hundreds of submissions. The Creativity Awards are chosen by esteemed juries led by Ad Age.

Right at the top of the Creativity Awards list are this year’s finalists in the category of … wait for it … content marketing.

They are:

  • HBO – for the integrated marketing campaign of the final season of Game of Thrones. This was done by Droga5 (an ad agency that is now an Accenture company).

  • Skittles: Advertising Ruins Everything by DDB Chicago and Smuggler (an advertising agency and production company, respectively).

To be very clear – the work for each of these entries is stellar. Top notch. And we’ll come back to that.

Now, CMI has its own awards – the Content Marketing Awards. As such, we’re aware that submissions sometimes don’t really comport with the category description. So, in many cases, you “get what you get” and must award a winner that’s not really representing the best in that category.

With that conundrum in mind, I went back to the Ad Age nomination form for the content marketing category. Here’s what it says:

This category recognizes creative uses of storytelling on any number of platforms – such as long-form films, branded content and native advertising on publishing sites. While today, many would consider traditional ads like spots or print ads to be ‘content,’ work that will win in this category represents the sort of storytelling you would not expect to find within a traditional ad buy.

This is where I take issue.

.@AdAge got #contentmarketing wrong the moment it wrote the awards category, says @Robert_Rose via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

Create the category – then the category should matter

Again, mea culpa here. For the last 10 years, we at CMI have laid claim to helping establish much of the standard approach to a specific approach and philosophy. It’s entirely possible that we haven’t been clear enough.

However, if I was a brand, a media company, a consulting firm, or an advertising agency and saw this description, I never would have submitted entries for my owned media property, audience building, or original content program for consideration in the content marketing category to Ad Age.

The first sentence of the category description is the giveaway. Oxford comma notwithstanding (and I’m an admitted fan), it basically says that content marketing is content distributed through a paid model and published on somebody else’s site.

In other words, in Ad Age’s category definition, content marketing is … again wait for it … advertising – only, you know, with more storytelling.

In @AdAge’s category definition, #contentmarketing is advertising with more storytelling, says @Robert_Rose via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

Now, if Ad Age wanted to feature those “sexy” consumer-facing brands that do cool stuff – they could have looked to any number of interesting content marketing efforts going on.

How about:

  • Red Bull’s Rubik’s Cube 2019 Championship. This was an integrated effort from the brand last year. Not only an interesting physical event, it also promoted Red Bull’s owned media platform MindGamers, which is filled with all kinds of games visitors can sign up and play.
  • General Mills’ This is a publication that launched within the nominating period from what I can tell. It is a recipe and cooking site that contains original articles, multimedia, videos, and even a community.
  • Peloton. Now here’s a brand that’s been in the news of late for actually transforming its strategy into a media-based operation. It’s recently launched apps for Apple Watch, Amazon Fire TV, and other platforms where you can stream original content.

Now, are those examples the most deserving efforts in content marketing? I have no idea. I honestly have no idea if any of them are even successful. What I do know is that they are good examples of actual content marketing.


It’s only worth leading if it matters

We’ve often said at CMI that, ultimately, we don’t really care if content marketing is treated as a separate practice or if it represents a good, modern marketing approach. We just believe, sincerely, that you should do it well.

However, if you are defining it as a distinct category to which someone can submit award-worthy, industry-leading work (and, as you might guess, we’re fans of that), then it really matters how you define it.

After more than 250 enterprise client consulting engagements, workshops, and the last decade of Content Marketing World, I’ve learned that the biggest reason content marketing fails in business is because operating and measuring the approach is misunderstood.

#Contentmarketing fails in business when operating and measuring are misunderstood, says @Robert_Rose via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

Now, candidly, the failure to understand operations and measurement is probably the reason that most marketing programs fail. Content marketing isn’t any different in that regard from direct marketing, email marketing, account-based marketing, or even digital marketing.

But when a magazine with the reach and influence of Ad Age describes award-worthy content marketing as “long-form films, branded content and native advertising” and the “sort of storytelling you wouldn’t expect to find within a traditional ad buy,” well, it just immediately sets the practice back a step.

It feels as though Ad Age was just looking for a catch-all category for some of the more creative ad campaigns, and with content marketing being a buzzword, it threw a few more finalists from other categories into the mix. It’s as if they just willfully said “owned media isn’t really our thing – so it doesn’t matter what we call it. Let’s just create a category where we can throw some cool creative stuff.”

And – to be clear again – this inaccurate categorization does the finalists in Ad Age’s awards program a disservice as well. The three finalists ARE representative of amazing work – just not content marketing:

  • The Game Of Thrones campaign is an epic example (and honestly one of the best I’ve ever seen) of brand extension.
  • The Sandy Hook ad – while disturbing on so many levels – is a powerful example of persuasive, classic advertising in the doing-good category.
  • The Skittles content is a really funny, engaging, long-form advertisement. So, maaaaaaybe call that branded content if you will. But, I’d posit that’s a skillfully executed advertisement.

But because they are being misclassified as content marketing, the people who do care about content marketing question the leadership there. And, the people who either don’t care about or don’t understand content marketing will wonder why they weren’t finalists in Best Work For Good, Experiential Campaign of the Year, or Craft of the Year.

We regularly feature our Content Marketing Award winners each year – and will do so again in 2020. In 2019, dozens of amazing efforts came from ad agencies, publishers, consultancies, and even the brands themselves:

  • SAP launched an amazing podcast that won an award.

  • Northwell Health and its agency Revmade won an award for an amazing owned media website.

  • Nulon, a family owned Australian motor oil brand, won an award for a branded content campaign.

I know the folks at Ad Age are facing a transforming and changing landscape. We all are. I know from firsthand experience they are talented, smart, and extraordinarily passionate about the space of marketing, advertising, and creative media.

But in a world where the next great, creative, award-worthy marketing is coming from brands launching their own media platforms and the media companies, agencies, and consultancies helping them, the age of ads is changing.

Stay abreast of the latest news, hear from interesting content marketers, and be pointed to helpful content in The Weekly Wrap, a podcast from CMI’s Chief Strategy Officer Robert Rose. Subscribe today:

Register for Content Marketing World to spend four days speaking with, and learning from, agency leaders excelling in content marketing for their clients and for their agencies.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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Avoid Predictions and Analyze the Possibilities of the Future [The Weekly Wrap]

Editor’s note: Sometimes you need to break the rules. We’re publishing The Weekly Wrap a day early to make room for a timely (and related) post from Robert Rose. Read and listen now. Then check back tomorrow.

Listen to the Weekly Wrap here or subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. If you enjoy the show, please take a moment to rate it or post a review.

And that’s a wrap of the week ending Feb. 28, 2020

This week I’m wondering about stories from the future. I look at Ad Age’s content marketing awards – and find them to be aged ads. I talk with trend hunter and innovation expert Jeremy Gutsche about a methodology for seeing into the future. And I share several articles about future-proofing your content marketing strategy.

Listen to the Weekly Wrap

Our theme this week is the future – it’s where you’ll spend the rest of your life.

Let’s wrap it up.

One deep thought: Back to the alternate futures (3:18)

We all want to predict the future. The ability to do so increases the odds that what we’re doing today will succeed. I’d argue that most of what we are doing in any planning exercise is an attempt to predict what’s coming. We read research, deploy technology, hire analysts, engage consultants, hold retreats, and attend conferences to try to see around the corners of the future.

The challenge comes, however, when we try to calculate the probability of a future instead of understanding the variety of possibilities in front of us. We want the best outcome, so we use all the resources we’ve gathered to choose the clearest, shortest path to our destination. The problem is that the predicted path is often inflexible – and usually wrong.

I suggest a better way – one that involves analyzing trends to extract all the possibilities and then addressing the variety of futures that may come from those possibilities. Still with me? Listen in for examples of this approach.

Analyze trends to extract the possibilities to plan the future, says @Robert_Rose via @cmicontent. #WeeklyWrap Click To Tweet

A fresh take on content marketing (?) awards (9:42)

This week Ad Age announced the Ad Age A-List and Creativity Award finalists.

Right at the top of the creativity award categories is content marketing of the year with three finalists:

  • HBO, “#forthethrone,” by Droga5
  • Sandy Hook Promise, “Back to School Essentials,” by BBDO New York
  • Skittles, “Advertising Ruins Everything,” by DDB Chicago and SMUGGLER

This set of nominees sent me off on a bit of a rant. It has nothing to do with the quality of the work ­– all those creative efforts were fantastic. It’s that they are not content marketing as we define it. (Ad Age does have categories that better fit these examples.)

.@AdAge’s #contentmarketing winners are NOT content marketing, says @Robert_Rose via @cmicontent. #WeeklyWrap Click To Tweet

Take a look at Ad Age’s description of the content marketing category:

This category recognizes creative uses of storytelling on any number of platforms – such as long-form films, branded content and native advertising on publishing sites. While today, many would consider traditional ads like spots or print ads to be ‘content,’ work that will win in this category represents the sort of storytelling you would not expect to find within a traditional ad buy.

I talk about why this category gives content marketing short shrift, why a clear definition of content marketing matters, and some fantastic examples from brands (and their agencies) that get it.


This week’s person making a difference in content: Jeremy Gutsche (17:41)

My guest this week is trend hunter Jeremy Gutsche, whom I’ve been a fan of for years. Jeremy is a New York Times best-selling author, award-winning innovation expert, a keynote speaker, and CEO of Trend Hunter – a trend website and innovation consultancy with over 3 billion views and more than 10,000 innovation projects. His team is relied on by 700 brands, billionaires, and CEOs to predict and create the future, including Google, Sony, Disney, Starbucks, Coca-Cola, IBM, and Adidas. He’s even helped NASA prototype the Journey to Mars.

Jeremy and I had a great conversation about trend hunting and seeing around corners into the future. Here’s a glimpse of one of the trends Jeremy’s keeping an eye on:

You can now as a big company enter almost any market. No one thought Amazon was going to become a grocery store ­– and then they just did. The lines are blurring … There are all sorts of plug-and-play services that happen at a higher level, where whole companies can move into entirely different industries with little experience.

All sorts of plug-and-play services allow companies to move into different industries with little experience, says @jeremygutsche via @cmicontent. #WeeklyWrap Click To Tweet

Listen in to our conversation, then learn more about Jeremy’s work:

One content marketing idea you can use (31:27)

And in the theme of this week, this idea is about the future and from the past. It’s not just one post. It’s a whole issue of Chief Content Officer from April last year. It’s just so good I hope you’ll look at it again. The issue will challenge your assumptions about change — and prompt you to consider whether the changes you make today will future-proof your business or set you up for future shock. Here are just a few of the juicy articles (about true content marketing):

Love for our sponsor: Kapost

So let me tell you a story … Once upon a time, customers wanted content. So, marketing produced it.

As new ways to reach customers emerged, marketers kept creating more and more content. They also started growing their teams and adding technology to help drive engagement.

But in all the excitement, we forgot why we started making content in the first place: for our customers. We knew the messages we worked so hard to build were getting lost in the chaos, but we didn’t know another way.

Finally our customer said, “Enough! You’re confusing me!”

With that, Kapost was born. Kapost unites revenue teams to speak in one voice across the entire customer journey.

Learn more at

The wrap-up

Join me next week for one thought about the past, present, and future (it’ll be intense), one bold prediction (as opposed to italicized news item) that will help you gain 2020 vision, and one content marketing tip that will help you become a prophet center. And it’ll all be delivered in a little less time than it takes a Whopper to get moldy.

If you have ideas for what you’d like to hear more of on our weekly play on words, let us know in the comments. And if you love the show, we’d sure love for you to review it or share it. Hashtag us up on Twitter: #WeeklyWrap.

To listen to past Weekly Wrap shows, go to the main Weekly Wrap page

How to subscribe

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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Most Agencies Bet on This Distribution Model [New Research]

Agencies buy into content marketing in a big way for their clients. But how do they use content marketing to promote their own businesses?

We sliced the data from our 2020 annual content marketing research to look at the 230 for-profit agency respondents. This group is directly involved in the content marketing for their agency promotion and has used content marketing for at least a year. (The 2020 research is based on surveys conducted in June and July 2019.)

One difference stands out – even jumps out – from when we first studied this segment for the 2019 research. A whopping 76% reported using paid channels to distribute content to market their firm in the previous 12 months. The previous year, only 59% reported using paid content distribution to market their business.

76% of agencies use paid content distribution channels to market their firms compared to 59% last year via @CMIContent. #research #agency Click To Tweet

That’s a 17-point increase in just one year. And it’s more evidence of the skyrocketing rent Joe Pulizzi warned all content marketers about years ago.

Let’s dig into that number and other highlights of the study of what agencies do for their own content marketing. It’s also summarized in the infographic below.

Who gets those paid content distribution dollars?

Paid social media advertising is the top paid distribution method agencies use by far (83%).

Of this group, the top two channels are Facebook (82%) and LinkedIn (58%). Over one-third (38%) of the agencies that use more than one paid social channel say LinkedIn generates the best results followed by Facebook.


Which owned channels do they use?

Almost every agency (91%) in the survey uses social media for organic content distribution. And agencies aren’t ignoring their owned channels: 86% use their company website/blog and 78% use email. And 61% take the opportunity to speak at or attend events to market their business.


Do they outsource their agency content marketing?

We know brand marketers often turn to agencies for help with content marketing. We wondered whether agencies look for outside help when they’re marketing their firms. As it turns out, most don’t. Only 33% of agency marketers say they outsource any content marketing activity. Of those who do, most (71%) outsource content creation.

Only one-third of agencies outsource any part of their firm’s #contentmarketing via @CMIContent. #research #agency Click To Tweet

Of all the verticals we examined in our annual content marketing survey, agencies were the least likely to say they outsource. For example, 64% of manufacturing marketers and 70% of enterprise marketers (1,000+ employees) outsource at least one content marketing function.

Where will they focus in 2020?

We asked agency respondents which three content marketing activities they thought their organization would prioritize in 2020 when marketing their own businesses. The most frequent answer: Focus on content quality/quantity (50%), followed by improving content distribution/promotion (47%), and improving the quality/conversion of their audiences (46%).

Half of agencies prioritize #content quality/content in 2020 for their own #contentmarketing via @CMIContent. #research Click To Tweet

Dive into the infographic for more insights, then browse the rest of our research studies to learn more about how agencies and brands are investing in and using content marketing.


Agencies and brands can do more with their content marketing dollars after expanding their skills at Content Marketing World this October. Join us and register today.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Cathy McPhillips

Cathy is the vice president of marketing at the Content Marketing Institute, leading marketing efforts for CMI, Content Marketing World, ContentTECH Summit, CMI University, CCO magazine, and other CMI properties. She works hard to get you to CMI events – online and off – and gets extra excited for opportunities to meet #CMWorld community members in person! Cathy is also a board member for The Orange Effect Foundation. You can follow her on Twitter @cmcphillips.

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Content Curation For Education: Benefits, Tips, and Use Cases You Need For Success

We’ve witnessed a massive shift in the way teaching and learning takes place in the last decade.

Knowledge and information used to be a limited, protected resource. For teachers and students alike, textbooks and libraries have been the only source of learning and development. In other words, options for finding new content to research, analyze, and learn from has conventionally been limited.

Luckily, online content and many formats it comes in have completely transformed that. More than ever before, educators and students can expand and deepen their curiosity on a topic in the matter of hours—wherever they’re located.

However, this comes with a downside: there is a lot of content to sort through. According to IBM, 90% of all data has been created in the last two years. Here’s what happens in just one minute on the internet, as of 2019:

This can be overwhelming. Instead of bringing more value, going through hundreds of articles, research papers, videos, podcasts, interviews, and news reports can actually distract you from your goal and actually repel you from the idea of using online content for education.

This is where content curation comes in. In this guide, we’ll show you how content curation is a great fit for educational projects, both if you’re a teacher and a student.

Why content curation works so well for educational projects

Simply put, content curation is the process of sorting through content and presenting it in a meaningful, organized way around a specific theme or category. To learn more about the essentials of content marketing, check out our resources on:

Let’s dive into reasons why education can greatly benefit from curated content.

Curated content is instantly useful and practical

Unlike the process of searching for the right books and research papers (which can mean hours in the library for just one great resource), content curation provides immediate access to deep insights.

When you curate highly valuable content, you enable yourself and your peers to make more sense of a certain topic, make better decisions, and develop critical thinking.

Curated content emphasizes collaborative learning and ongoing conversations

This benefit is simple: when there’s a central, online place for the best content on a topic you’re currently covering in class, everyone can contribute with their thoughts and insights.

Similar to a social media post that lets people comment on it, a great content curation platform will make it easy for the whole class to participate in meaningful discussions.

Curated content makes learning mobile

Many books and other standard academic resources are now available digitally. However, you still need to know exactly what you’re looking for or have access to a library, which can be a struggle.

Content curation makes the most relevant insights accessible anywhere, anytime. You could be in your home, office, on a train, or anywhere else—as long as you have an internet connection, you’re good to go.

Curated content surfaces trends you otherwise wouldn’t notice

Another benefit of content curation is that it helps you monitor your field of expertise in real time. That’s difficult if you’re only relying on textbooks and curriculums that have been around for a few years.

With curated content, you can identify new methodologies, approaches to certain challenges, emerging strategies, and other up-and-coming trends.

Curated content helps teachers keep examples relevant and current

One of the best ways students can learn is to see what they’ve learned in real world situations.

Content curation enables educators to create and maintain custom learning hubs. These hubs packed with relevant, current examples help students to deepen their understanding of the topic.

For example, let’s say you’re leading a marketing strategy course. While your curriculum and textbooks are the foundation, you can expand your students’ knowledge with a learning hub packed with:

  • Presentations from leading marketing speakers
  • Best product positioning examples, categorized by industry
  • Articles that analyze marketing strategies of Fortune 500 companies
  • Examples of marketing strategies from fastest-growing startups

While the foundation of what you’re teaching will remain the same at its core, the examples and practical applications of it will always evolve. Content curation allows you to remain up to date with supporting materials for your students.

What you need to know about content curation in education

Content curation isn’t as simple as doing a Google search on your topic and adding anything you come across to your curated topic.

An excellent content curator is someone who can:

  • Find the most relevant material for the topic
  • See patterns and trends
  • Identify groupings and contexts for the topic
  • Navigate the complexity of available information

This applies both to educators and students who are curating content (we’ll get into specific use cases in the next section).

To curate content for educational projects successfully, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Focus on quality over quantity; plenty of mediocre content won’t be more useful than a few carefully selected pieces
  • Curate content regularly, not just as a one-and-done task
  • Know who you’re curating for
  • Curate content that helps contextualize information and connect the dots
  • Content can come in form of website pages, blog posts, PDFs, news articles, research papers, social media posts, video and audio of any length—don’t neglect any of it if it’s valuable

Use cases of content curation for education

Wondering how you can put the above insights into practice? We’ve listed our favorite use cases for curated content in educational projects below. We’ve also noted which ones are applicable to students, and which are aimed at educators.

Side note: If you want to take any of the use cases and apply them to your own work or studies, you’ll need a content curation platform that’s equally flexible and easy to use. is exactly that, with the possibility to:

  • Build multiple topic pages
  • Add your own insights to everything you curate
  • Have others comment on a piece of content and share it
  • Embed your curated content elsewhere and integrate with dozens of services using Zapier
  • Manage permissions and roles so that the right people can access the right content

Want to see a real-life example of an education hub on Check out Geography Education (with over 2 million views so far!):

Let’s dive into some great use cases you can implement right away.

Host your lesson resources

Who can curate this way: Educators

Sure, you can always simply provide your students with a printed list of resources they can look for in their own time.

But a better way to do this is to provide them with just one link: the one that hosts all of these resources, readily available in a single click. You’ll increase the chances of your students actually consuming that content.

Lesson resources can include written, audio, and video content; speeches, checklists, slide decks, templates, tutorials, and much more.

Curate a weekly/monthly reading list

Who can curate this way: Educators

Another way to approach the creation of resources for your lessons is to build an ever-evolving reading list.

Depending on the frequency of your lessons, you can update this on a regular basis, with newly curated content related to the specific subtopics you’re covering in the next lesson (or the ones you’ve covered in the most recent lesson).

You can have all of these lists hosted on a single page (in, it’s called a topic page), or you can build a separate one for each of your lessons.

If you want to ensure your students actually go through this list in time, you can:

  • Add a note with the approximate reading time for each item on the list
  • Add your insight on who will find each item most appealing (especially if you present the same lessons to different groups of students simultaneously)
  • Make sure you’re not adding too much content each week/month, but enough to keep your students curious and engaged

Host your student projects and associated resources

Who can curate this way: Students

Student projects are typically written, linear documents that present your idea and your approach to solving a problem.

A hub packed with curated content lets you enrich that idea. It lets you play with opportunities and helps your teacher, as well as your fellow students, to visualize your project and make it come to life.

Create your digital portfolio

Who can curate this way: Students

When you’re about to enter the workforce, you need a way to not only demonstrate your skills, but to set yourself apart from other candidates you’re competing with. Without any work experience, it can be a real challenge to showcase your skillset.

This is where a curated online portfolio can help. You can use a content curation platform to present:

  • The projects you worked on as a students
  • Your insights and notes on projects and reports from relevant companies or people
  • Your thought process around crucial topics and challenges in your field of expertise

Going this extra mile to present what you’re good at and what you’ve worked on during your years in education will help you leave a great impression on potential employers.

Wrapping up

Thanks to content curation, you can stand out in your educational journey as a student, and in your career as a teacher.

With the internet at your disposal, you can enrich any topic, lesson, and curriculum thanks to the rich, extensive, valuable content other people and companies have created. It would be a waste not to make the most of that.

Take one of the use cases we’ve outlined in this guide to start curating the most relevant content on your topic of expertise and studies. You will become an indispensable resource for your industry. It will set you apart and help you lay the groundwork for a successful, fulfilled career.


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7 Free Keyword Research Tools for Content Marketers

As Google gets better at interpreting language and search intent, can we finally take it easy on keywords?

Not really. Keywords remain important indicators of how people use search. Even though we no longer need to go after the exact keywords, an analysis of keywords offers ideas for content that’s relevant to searchers and shows gaps that your content could fill.

Keyword analyses offer ideas for more relevant #content and filling content gaps, says @ab80 via @cmicontent. #SEO Click To Tweet

To that end, these seven free keyword research tools, from most comprehensive to a little extravagant, can help.


1. Keyword Surfer

If you want a fully immersive keyword research experience, then consider adding the Keyword Surfer Chrome extension. It hijacks each of your Google searches by displaying keyword statistics in the search bar. It also adds a side panel to the search result page, providing the top 10 keywords similar to the current query.

Now, Keyword Surfer is not intended to be your primary keyword research tool – the data is far from complete. But, it’s still a handy tool to have running in the background in case something catches your eye during your daily browsing.

.@surfer_seo #KeywordSurfer Chrome extension hijacks each of your Google searches by displaying keyword stats in the search bar, says @ab80 via @cmicontent. #tools Click To Tweet

Best for: Tip-of-the-iceberg ideas that can appear without adding another step

2. Google Keyword Planner

Keyword Planner is a perfect balance of sophistication and simplicity. On the one hand, it’s a Google SEO tool so it accesses one of the biggest and the most reliable keyword databases. On the other hand, it doesn’t allow for much research customization and discloses only the most basic of keyword quality metrics.

Enter a few seed keywords and get a list of semantically similar keyword suggestions, complete with metrics like monthly search volume, competition, and bid ranges. There are likely to be thousands of results. You can use the sorting and filtering options to narrow them down. Most notably, you can exclude negative keywords – you won’t see the results for searches that include those words.

Even though you can see a lot of keywords, the variation is narrow and unlikely to inspire original content ideas. That said, Keyword Planner is still a great place to start your keyword research. Once you weed out irrelevant results, synonyms, and seldom-searched terms, you are left with a keyword list of about a dozen basic but actionable terms.

Best for: Finding pillar content ideas

Use a tool such as @Google #KeywordPlanner for finding pillar #content ideas, says @ab80 via @cmicontent. #tools #SEOtips Click To Tweet

3. QuestionDB

Another question-oriented keyword finder, QuestionDB pulls a keyword list from a database of over 48 million questions asked on Reddit.

#QuestionDB is a #keywordresearch tool using Reddit posts, says @ab80 via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

When people post to Reddit, they ask questions that are not readily answered by Google. That’s your opening to create a unique piece of expert content. You can even add it to the topic’s Reddit thread once it’s ready.

Sometimes this tool returns nothing useful, but other times it can be fascinating. In a search for “winter jacket,” I was surprised to find a question about using a rain shell and a sweater to construct a winter jacket and more than one question about form-fitting down jackets. Right there are two unexpected but promising content ideas.

Best for: Finding ideas for niche expert articles

4. Rank Tracker

Unlike most other SEO tools on this list, Rank Tracker is a collection of nine research methods. Those approaches can be broadly sorted into two distinct categories – spying on your competitors and playing with keyword semantics. (Disclosure. Rank Tracker is part of my company’s software portfolio.)

Rank Tracker finds the highest-ranking keywords for a competitor and exposes the keyword gaps on your site. As for semantic research, enter a keyword and get a list of related searches, related questions, and autocomplete suggestions. Keywords collected this way are a gold mine for content makers because many of them already sound like article titles.

.@seopowersuite #RankTracker tool finds the highest-ranking #keywords for a competitor & exposes the gaps on your site, says @ab80 via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

In addition, Rank Tracker integrates with Google’s SEO tools, including analytics, keyword planner, and search console, so you can see detailed quality metrics, like organic search volume and keyword difficulty.

Best for: Borrowing good content ideas from your competitors

5. Google Trends

Using Google Trends is not as much about discovering the best keywords as it is about prioritizing your content ideas. It shows keyword popularity over time and across geographic locations. You can plot and compare several keywords on the same graph.

For example, Google Trends reveals “winter jacket” and “down jacket” are not as interchangeable as they seem. Searches for “winter jacket” peak in early November and are quickly overtaken by searches for “down jackets.” Perhaps people searching for winter jackets end up learning about the types and conclude down is the best type so they search for “down jacket.” After they learn about different down jacket brands, an uptick in “Arcteryx” searches can be seen.

With this information, a series of articles based on keyword priorities during the calendar year should be created and scheduled. Using this example, you could create a guide on types of winter jackets followed by a listicle of the best down jackets, and then publish a detailed review of best Arc’teryx models.

Best for: Refining your content strategy and editorial calendar based on keyword trends

Use @GoogleTrends for refining your #contentstrategy and editorial calendar based on keyword trends, says @ab80 via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet


6. Google Search Console

Google Search Console lets you discover opportunities for those keywords already used on your website.

Discover your site’s keywords that need help with #GoogleSearchConsole, says @ab80 via @cmicontent. #keywordresearch Click To Tweet

Google Search Сonsole provides a list of keywords that your site ranks for, including SERP positions and click-through rates. The trick is that each SERP position has a widely accepted CTR benchmark. For example, a keyword in the first position should expect to have a CTR of about 30%. Each consecutive position drops an average of 5%, and the last four positions on the first page of SERP get a CTR of about 3%.

You can see if a keyword is falling behind its SERP position CTR benchmark. To raise the CTR, you could work on your snippets – come up with a catchier title, optimize the meta description, apply schema markup, or even rewrite the page to make your content a better fit for users’ expectations. Making improvements is likely to bring more traffic than trying to rank with new keywords.

Best for: Identifying underperforming pieces of content on your website that could benefit from a fresh coat of paint


7. Answer The Public

Searchers are increasingly confident in using natural language when forming queries because search engines are getting smarter and delivering the results searchers seek. More highly specific, question-like searches are being asked and Google is delivering more featured Q&A snippets at the top of results.

If you want to join this game, Answer The Public is a perfect place to start your search for long-tail keywords.

Enter a keyword and Answer The Public turns it into an appealing infographic of the relevant queries that use questions, comparisons, and prepositions sorted by popularity.

That’s all the tool does, but the displayed queries are always on point and present a few dozen actionable ideas for each keyword. Some of those queries could be turned into stand-alone articles, while others may be grouped as section headers in a larger piece of content.

Answer The Public is a direct line to members of your audience, their concerns, and the language they use to express them. All you have to do is publish the answers they seek.

.@answerthepublic is a direct line to your audience members, their concerns, and the language they use to express them, says @ab80 via @cmicontent. #keywordresearch Click To Tweet

Best for: Generating ideas for individual articles or detailed guides

Connecting searches to content

These seven free SEO tools range from an easy tool for the lazy keyword search to a niche tool for Reddit question search terms. Start with comprehensive SEO tools that return basic results and move on to wild-card tools to find something edgy. Let me know what SEO tools you use and how they inform your content development.

Connect at ContentTECH Summit this April in San Diego with major brands and experts in the content tech space. Register today.

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No One Can Break Your Content Rules If They Don’t Exist

You’re a rule breaker, iconoclast, rebel. You are somebody who won’t take “no” for an answer. Sounds like an ad for Apple doesn’t it?

These days we tend to celebrate the rule breakers. We’re taught that great leaders take risks and disrupt the status quo. They innovate by breaking the established rules with something better.

Until, that is, the rule breaker breaks a rule that we like.

If an iconoclastic business leader embezzles money from the company, cheats on their spouse, or simply cuts in line at Starbucks, they’re not a rebel. They’re just a jerk.

There are rules we set and follow. And there are the inexplicit rules that become patterns over time – “the way things are done.” We typically follow both kinds of rules because we recognize that they keep things functioning smoothly and/or safely. And we break them because either we don’t agree that they help things function smoothly or safely or because we’re unaware that the rule exists.

When the iconoclast zags while the rest of the world zigs, we appreciate the innovator because they didn’t agree with the conventional pattern of how things are done. They stress test the existing rule with a new one. For example, when Elon Musk broke the “rule” that cars are to be sold through a network of dealerships, no one except his competitors really cared about that rule. It was just the way things had been done. The new rule – cars can be sold on demand – was a welcome change.

In business, both the formal and informal rules become part of our corporate culture – and make up (in both good and bad ways) the fabric of our strategies. But the challenge arises when the way-things-are-done practices become problematic. People can’t break rules that don’t exist and continue to practice “the way things are done.”

In our consulting and advisory work, we see this challenge prominently when it comes to content strategy. We hear laments from practitioners such as:

  • “Anyone with a budget and executive support can publish to the website.” (Is there a rule to state they couldn’t?)
  • “Sales doesn’t use the content that we create.” (Is that because no one has said sales is not allowed to create their own content?)
  • “We don’t have time to manage the quality of our blog because we’re too busy producing content for other groups.” (Is that because there are no rules about how content requests are managed?)
  • “Our content marketing is only as good as the paid social campaign that promoted it.” (Is that because you measure content quality based on how much money you spend to promote it?)

Sound familiar?

CMI’s B2B Content Marketing 2020 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends – North America research backs these challenges up. (Results for B2C marketers were similar.) Consider:

  • 48% of B2B marketers don’t think their organization provides an optimal experience.
  • 59% of B2B marketers don’t document their content marketing strategy and make it a socialized and communicated approach.
  • Over half (54%) are either unsure or expect to see a static or slightly decreasing budget in 2020.

There are seven simple words that explain why marketers and their brands experience these problems: Content is not treated as a strategy. Therefore, there are no set rules for content, there’s only “how things are done.”

Breaking rules is fun. Lacking rules … not so much

Whenever I see these numbers and hear the associated complaints, I know they originate from an imbalance in the operating models of content. And that means content marketing teams are suffering from the lack of useful rules.

Complaints from #contentmarketing teams often reveal an imbalance of operating models, says @Robert_Rose via @cmicontent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Defining, documenting, and implementing a content operating model gives teams the ability to enforce a strategy – and the flexibility to stray from it.

I recently worked with a mid-sized technology company whose content marketing team experienced the downside of a rule-free approach to content operations.

That small content marketing team was tasked with supplying content assets to the rest of the company. The assets included infographics, white papers, and webinars for the demand-generation team, PowerPoint decks for the C-suite, and customer success stories for the sales teams.

They were swamped. To keep up with the demand for content, they outsourced a greater and greater number of creative projects to freelancers and to their agency. Other teams in the company started creating their own content assets because the content marketing team couldn’t keep up with demand. (The quality of those content assets was about as good as you might expect.)

Despite how slammed they were, the content team itself managed to produce many thought-provoking pieces. But, because their content marketing strategy was simply to produce bait for demand-generation campaigns, conference sessions for the C-suite, and enablement collateral for the sales team, they never got to any standard of quality. Put simply, there was no standard of “enough content,” because without rules of capacity, there could be no priority. The most important piece of content became the one the team was latest in delivering.

Without #content rules of capacity, there can be no priority, says @robert_rose via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

The team fixed this by fundamentally reshaping their contribution model. By cultivating a 60-40 prioritized split of content led and created by the content team vs. the content created on request, they were able to prioritize their strategic efforts (the 60%) and the reactive fulfillment (the 40%). By tracking and measuring this balance, the team not only had the ability to say “no,” or “you must wait” to content requests, but to provide better value to the business.


Content marketing is cool, but content strategy makes it work

One of the biggest trends we see is content marketing teams being asked to take on much more than creating cool blogs, resource centers, and content hubs. They’re now being asked to create value at every level of the content-driven experiences that a brand manages.

As companies integrate content more deeply in their business strategy, they need guidelines, protocols, and standards that can provide for scalability, and balance for the operation of content. Put simply: They need to define and plan for the unique operating models of content. By definition each model has optimal team structures, engagement, and governance approaches.

The models have rules. This is the heart of a functional content strategy, one that focuses on the planning, creation, delivery, and governance of content across an enterprise.

Here’s an overview of the four content operating models from an article I wrote last year:

Each model falls along two scales. The first is the business integration scale. At one extreme, content exists to simply support other, isolated parts of the marketing and communications teams as a contributor. The other end of the business integration scale is content marketing as a core business strategy.

The other scale is function. At one end, content marketing is internally focused, supporting internal constituencies for their strategic needs. On the other end, content marketing is externally focused on direct relationships with audiences, drawing in audiences to be managed with the same care that you might give customers.

Now, consider these two before-and-after examples of content teams that eventually chose a content operating model.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: 4 Business Models for Content Marketing

Health-care company discovers a ‘web of capabilities’

One large health-care company I worked with faces a big challenge in the way the content team is balanced. The team is seen as a “service organization” that publishes content to the corporate website, creates blog posts for the lifestyle blog they manage, and provides some support for the customer service team.

They’re so swamped that their governance model is built around the idea of offloading more and more content strategy responsibility to regional offices.

In fact, (and this is a topic for a whole other post) their enterprise content management vendor leans on this approach as a key selling point: “If you deploy our solution, content management will be democratized and every business manager can help manage your content.”

All of you who manage an enterprise CMS for any sizable company are cringing right about now. You know exactly how wrong this is.

The challenge is, of course, that the regional folks not only don’t understand the enterprise content strategy rules, they don’t really care that much. So they use the enterprise tool in the wrong way or they deploy other CMS solutions because “they’re easier to use” or, you know, “just because.”

No rules.

This was a great reason for the content team to rebalance and adopt the processor model. This model empowers the content team to be responsible for the website and the blog, but also to lead the strategy for how content is managed as a “product” of the company.

A #content operating model empowers the team to lead how content is managed as a product, says @Robert_Rose via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

As there would be for any product, there are rules for content creation, governance, execution, and measurement. Now when regional offices apply for responsibility to manage content, they’re brought into the content strategy team with training around content protocols.

They become part of the whole content team – not just the team managing regional content. As a result, the organization is building a network – a “web of capabilities” as I like to call it.

There are rules, which can (and often are) broken. For example, one doctor in one region has a popular microsite. Because it works, it is acknowledged to be outside the rules so that others can’t copy the exception. This company now has a handle on its content strategy – and can scale it appropriately.

Software company finds its media product groove

A mid-sized software company I recently consulted with faced a different kind of challenge (and chose a different solution).

The three people managing its content marketing had been charged with creating a new thought leadership platform for the company. The challenge was how to add the content to populate this new publication to their already stacked pipeline of content assets.

The team was creating tons of assets for the enterprise software sales team. They engaged influencers and analysts to write white papers. They conducted webinars. They helped produce the annual customer event.

To make it all work, they decided to use the thought leadership platform as a distribution channel for all the content assets they already were creating. There was only one problem.

Everybody else hated that idea.

The sales team didn’t like it because it meant their content would be accessible without a registration gate. The demand-generation team didn’t like it because they felt it would compete with their drip campaigns.

The model was imbalanced. There were no rules.

The team decided to reboot by strategizing, documenting, and deploying an operating model that combines the player and performer operating models. They asked, if they were to launch a new thought leadership platform:

  • What purpose would it serve?
  • What differentiated value could it give the audience?
  • How would it integrate into the business’s content strategy?

This renewed strategic approach gave them the ability to launch a new intake and production model – rules – for sales-enablement assets. Some assets would be appropriate to re-use or repackage for the thought leadership platform.

The process of creating their content operating model also helped them map what they’d need to operate a strategic, differentiated (internally and externally) thought leadership platform that wasn’t competing for audience engagement with the company’s other content experiences.

Now this content team has the appropriate editorial strategy to manage their publication and their ability to supply the rest of the company with assets.

Learn like a scientist, perform like an artist

There’s a wonderful quote, usually (and probably falsely) attributed to Pablo Picasso: “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

One objection we hear to developing a strategic and highly structured content marketing strategy is that it can take the spontaneity and speed out of the creation process. We hear protests such as “it will slow us down,” and “we won’t react as quickly,” or “creating content will feel like procurement or accounting,” and “we’ll lose the ability for everybody to create content.”

My reaction to that? “Yup, you’re exactly right. You will experience all those things.”

Rules and structure will slow down the creation process. They’re designed to do that. Our advice is to let it feel slower. You will make up speed on the back end when your team is looking for better structured assets in the content management system – and can find them instead of re-creating them.

Rules and structure will slow down the creation process, says @robert_rose via @cmicontent. #contentstrategy Click To Tweet

Rules do remove the ability for everybody to create content. But let’s be honest – not everybody in the company should be creating and publishing content. Creating great content is not everybody’s job. It’s not everybody’s calling. If it’s a skill worth hiring for, it’s a role worth specializing.

Rules do make content feel like a strategic function – yes, like accounting or procurement. And it absolutely should be. Businesses create as much or more content than anything else they do. It deserves the same care, deliberation, and strategic approach as any of the most strategic functions in the business.

#Content deserves the same care, deliberation, and strategic approach as any of the most strategic functions in the business, says @robert_rose via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

Content is communication. The right strategy, structure, and rules help you communicate like a professional – even when you choose to break them like an artist.

Spend a few days this October at Content Marketing World where the theme is all about breaking rules. Register today for the best rates.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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What Is and What Ought to Be True [The Weekly Wrap]

Listen to the Weekly Wrap here or subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. If you enjoy the show, please take a moment to rate it or post a review.

And that’s a wrap of the week ending Feb. 21, 2020

This week I’m exploring the difference between what is true and what ought to be true. I share a news article about the problem with advertising and data. I talk with the authors of a new book about the internal workings of content marketing. And I recommend an article that gives you three strategies for connecting with your audience (hint: start with mutual truths).

Listen to the Weekly Wrap

The theme this week is a question: Can you handle the truth?

Let’s wrap it up.

One deep thought: The magic of what ought to be (3:15)

“I don’t want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes magic! I try to give that to people. I misinterpret things to them. I don’t tell the truth. I tell what ought to be truth.” Blanche DuBois’ avoidance of reality didn’t end well for her in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire.

But in so many ways, Blanche’s magic is what we marketers often communicate to customers. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. We don’t lie but, in varying degrees, present a version of what ought to be true rather than what the unvarnished truth is. I explore the difference – and how to apply it to your brand stories.

Marketers don’t lie. They present a version of what ought to be true, says @Robert_Rose via @cmicontent. #WeeklyWrap Click To Tweet

A fresh take on a less-is-more content strategy (11:05)

An item in Axios Media Trends caught my eye this week for its relevance to the theme of this episode. Marketers Own Up to Data, Journalism Crises recaps a talk from the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) annual leadership meeting in which publishing executives “confessed that new privacy regulation and industry changes are forcing them to finally be on their best behavior after years of reckless spending .”

New privacy regs are forcing publishers to be on their best behavior, according to @Axios Media Trends via @cmicontent. #WeeklyWrap Click To Tweet

Here’s one confession from that event – from Eargo CMO Shiv Singh: “I’ve literally steered hundreds of millions of dollars to these platforms. And at no point in that journey … did I ask about their data policies or did I ask about what is their relationship with media or politics or consumer privacy or any of that. So, my first response is that we all have a stake in this and I think at some level, we all have screwed up.”

This is the part of the movie when I’m sitting in the corner keeping my voice quiet then sheepishly getting up and saying, “Hi guys, I might have an idea …” (Listen to hear my take on a content marketing version of the speech from the end of When Harry Met Sally.)

You can read this article from TechCrunch that explains what the IAB thinks of cookies and what it’s doing to make sure tracking stays around.

There are positive days ahead for content marketers using audience data to serve up better experiences, it’s just changing.


This week’s persons making a difference in content: Toby Murdock and Zoe Randolph (16:09)

My guests this week are Kapost founder Toby Murdock, general manager of the Kapost platform at Upland Software; and Zoe Randolph, content architect at Kapost. They are the authors of the new book, Mastering One Voice: A Marketing Fable and Field Guide to Content Operations.

Toby’s got extensive experience helping companies of all sizes turn business ideas into marketing content and a strategy that resonates with customers throughout the buyer journey. He served as Kapost CEO from its founding through the 2019 acquisition by Upland Software.

Zoe oversees messaging, hosts webinars, and authors long- and short-form content as a content architect at Kapost.

We talked about the stories in (and behind) their book and much more.

Here’s a snippet from our chat with Zoe:

“One of the biggest mistakes we can make if we’re in the game of content is to think that everything begins and ends with the content team … One of the biggest first steps to take to get to scale is to help stakeholders see that ultimately content – and through content customer experience ­– is really everybody’s problem.”

Big mistake? Thinking everything begins and ends with the #content team, according to @Kapost’s Zoe Randolph via @cmicontent. #WeeklyWrap Click To Tweet

Listen in to our conversation about content operations and navigating business silos, then get more of the story:


One content marketing idea you can use (29:30)

This week I highly recommend an article that speaks to the theme: 3 Strategies to Connect With Your Audience (Hint: Start With Mutual Truths). In it, Dennis Shiao recaps a great Content Marketing World session by Liz High, vice president of customer experience at Metia Group, that explains how to find the brand’s truth, the customer’s truth, and the truth.

3 sides in #contentmarketing – the brand’s, the customer’s, and the truth via Liz High @metia. @cmicontent #WeeklyWrap Click To Tweet

Love for our sponsor: Kapost

So let me tell you a story … Once upon a time, customers wanted content. So, marketing produced it.

As new ways to reach customers emerged, marketers kept creating more and more content. They also started growing their teams and adding technology to help drive engagement.

But in all the excitement, we forgot why we started making content in the first place: for our customers. We knew the messages we worked so hard to build were getting lost in the chaos, but we didn’t know another way.

Finally our customer said, “Enough! You’re confusing me!”

With that, Kapost was born. Kapost unites revenue teams to speak in one voice across the entire customer journey.

Learn more at

The wrap-up

Tune in next week when I’ll pull more wisdom that’s long in the, ahem, truth. I’ll dare you to explore one news item that I’ve fought truth and nail to bring to you. And we’ll pop up a content marketing tip that includes at least one kernel of truth. And it’ll all be delivered in a little less time than it takes to recline your airplane seat.

If you have ideas for what you’d like to hear more of on our weekly play on words, let us know in the comments. And if you love the show, we’d sure love for you to review it or share it. Hashtag us up on Twitter: #WeeklyWrap.

To listen to past Weekly Wrap shows, go to the main Weekly Wrap page

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Offer a Content Upgrade and See Conversion Rates Rise

Even when you pour hours into long-form content, getting visitors to convert is still an enormous challenge.

A content upgrade can be a game changer in overcoming that conversion challenge.

A #content upgrade can be a game changer in conversions, says @CCollinsDC via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

Content upgrades (also known as bonus content) can deliver incredible results. Backlinko’s Brian Dean used a content upgrade to raise his conversion rate from 0.54% to 4.82% (a 785% increase) in one day.

In this article, I share tips and examples to creating a high-converting content upgrade. It is a lot easier than you might think.

Psychology of the content upgrade

The idea behind the content upgrade is simple. Offering a bonus resource adds value to the content your visitors consumed in exchange for subscribing to your email list. As a content consumer, you’ve probably taken advantage of lots of content upgrade offers, like this one from CoSchedule:

Content upgrades offer a resource to your readers when they are most likely to need it. They also convert well because they follow the reciprocity principle – people inactively desire to repay others who have done something good for them.

And if you want to promote a product or service later, many of your readers will be interested to hear about it because you’ve already given them something valuable.

Now, let’s go through the things to keep in mind while developing a content upgrade.

Make it high impact

Select content upgrades that will make the most impact by focusing on your high-traffic pages as identified in your analytics. Pick up to five pages that would benefit from a content upgrade offer.

Effective content upgrades work because they’re tailored to readers who want to take the next step after they’ve consumed your article or other piece of content. They’re not a ubiquitous offer like that e-book or checklist promoted on every page of your site.

#Content upgrades work when tailored to the page’s readers, not a ubiquitous offer, says @CCollinsDC via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

For example, Ryan Robinson published an article with a step-by-step guide to building a content marketing strategy. At the end of the piece, he offers a content upgrade especially relevant to the article topic – a content marketing calendar template.

Read through each of your five potential content upgrade pages as your audience would. Then ask what content, if any, you would want next. Pick the one page that offers the most potential and create that content upgrade.

Let’s look at a few more examples of upgrades that crushed it to inspire your content upgrade options. 



After Eric Siu wrote a popular post for Growth Everywhere on how to get up early, he collaborated with Devesh Khanal to create a simple content upgrade to attract more subscribers. When their checklist of steps for rising early went live, it increased the opt-in rate for the post by 492%, as reported by The Daily Egg.

Outreach list

When Val Geisler wrote the article 7 Don’ts of Facebook Groups, she included a downloadable list of the best Facebook groups for creatives. By giving her readers a shortcut to the most useful Facebook communities, she reports boosting her conversions by 600%.

.@lovevalgeisler boosted conversions by 600% by offering a #content upgrade, says @CCollinsDC via @cmicontent. Read more > Click To Tweet

Two-part story

Kim Roach details in this video an experiment she conducted at BuzzBlogger. She first wrote an ungated post about the top 10 Fiverr gigs of the year. At the bottom, she touts a second post – the content upgrade – that shares the top 20 gigs of the year. According to Kim, about 15% of those who read the first post converted so they could read the second one.


When Jacob McMillen published his epic guide to becoming a copywriter, he paired it with a content upgrade – a freelance writer’s career blueprint and a promise for even more relevant content. He reports that it converted at 7.7%.


Chris Von Wilpert’s article on 10 hacks for content marketers is great on its own. But it’s just a teaser for his real attraction – a massive list of 100 content marketing hacks under $100. (Note: Unlike the other examples, Chris promotes his content upgrade before the article begins.)

Cheat sheet

Condensing everything your readers need to know into one page can make for a great, high-value upgrade. Bill Widmer offers a white hat SEO cheat sheet as a targeted upgrade with his SEO case study:

Condensing everything your readers need to know into one page makes a high-value #content upgrade, says @CCollinsDC via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

Resource page

Giving all the resources your readers need to act is another terrific way to make your advice actionable. When Brian Dean wrote a guest article for Buffer on the strategies he used to increase conversions by 134% at Backlinko, he promoted three content bonuses at the end. It linked to a landing page with additional strategies, checklists, and tutorials:

TIP: Personalize your content upgrade landing page. In this example, Brian customized the sign-up page for Buffer readers who saw his original content – and the bonus offer.


Barry Feldman enhanced his explainer on lead magnets with a pack of ready-to-go lead magnet templates:


Streamline by topic

You’ll get the best results from content upgrades tailored to each piece of content. If that seems unrealistic given your team’s workload, you can streamline the content upgrades – focus on each topic rather than each piece of content. Single Grain executes the topic-specific approach brilliantly. It offers the same content upgrade across most of its podcasting-related content – a how-to guide on building a podcast – in an inline call to action:

Keep it simple

If a new content upgrade is too daunting even in topic form, you can still do this simple hack – create a downloadable PDF of each piece of content.

Former Rejoiner growth manager Thomas Krawiec told The Daily Egg he got great results with this strategy:

“Rather than making new offers for every specific post or trying to mix and match old offers with new posts, we simply turn our high-quality posts into a PDF and offer that as a content upgrade.”

We turn our high-quality posts into a PDF and offer that as a #content upgrade, says @tkrawiec via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

To kick it up a notch, consider transforming long-form articles into downloadable e-books. Packaging your content as an e-book elevates the value of your bonus content in the eyes of your readers, making them more willing to hand over their contact details.

Easily digestible article summaries are another simple, low-effort option. Offer a 500-word summary of a 5,000-word masterpiece and you’ll likely get email sign-ups for people who prefer a shorter option.


Create attention-grabbing CTAs

Even incredible content upgrades won’t deliver results if your readers don’t know about them.

You need to create an effective opt-in form to promote your offer. And the best way to do that is with a pop-up.

Stay with me here.

No matter how you feel about pop-ups, you can’t deny the numbers. Pop-ups convert. A Sumo study showed that a typical pop-up gets a conversion rate of almost 3.1%. And the highest-performing pop-ups convert on average an eye-popping 9.28% of visitors.

Just as with your content upgrades, consider creating topic-specific pop-ups. By building a handful of topic-based pop-ups, you can reap the benefits of highly targeted upgrades while dramatically simplifying your workflow.

But don’t let pop-ups be the only call to action on the page. Every reader doesn’t see all parts of the page, as research from Chartbeat shows. And many readers spend no more than two seconds at the bottom of the page where many calls to action usually appear.

As The Daily Egg reports, Brian Dean found that adding a second CTA for a content upgrade resulted in a 315% increase in conversions over a single, end-of-post CTA.

HubSpot consistently uses a multiple CTA strategy. A typical post includes at least three offers to download the content upgrade – top of the page (below the byline), halfway down (slide-in pop-up), and at the end of the article:

When designing your CTAs, write copy that highlights the value of the content upgrade to the reader. After implementation, test the CTA copy against alternatives to find what converts the best.

When designing CTAs, write copy that highlights the value of the #content upgrade and then test it against alternatives, says @CCollinsDC via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet


Upgrade conversion rates with a bonus content offer

A successful content upgrade offer provides an additional value to the reader around the topic (e.g., a checklist or template) or even by the format (e.g., summary or PDF). It also can be easily found on the page with deliberate but not intrusive opt-in promotions. By implementing content upgrade offers, you should see your conversion rate rise.

If you’ve seen any awesome content upgrades lately, tell us about them in the comments.

You didn’t think we’d go without offering a content upgrade, did you? If you don’t have your strategy written down, this will help. And if you do have a written strategy, revisit it to make sure you’ve answered all these questions. Download the Content Marketing Institute’s e-book The Essentials of a Documented Content Marketing Strategy: 36 Questions to Answer. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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Stop Wasting Time: Review Your Website Analytics

Is reviewing site analytics something that’s always on your to-do list but never gets crossed off?

Andy Crestodina of Orbit Media says that doesn’t make sense. “The reason to use analytics is to stop wasting time and to abandon those tactics and processes that don’t make a difference. I use analytics because I’m busy,” he says.

Use analytics to stop wasting time and abandon tactics that don’t make a difference, says @crestodina via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

In a Content Marketing World presentation, How to Analyze Content Performance Using Google Analytics: From Basics to Advanced, Andy details tips and tricks that not only save marketers time but also create more effective websites.

Little-known facts, just a few clicks away

Let’s take a quiz. Can you answer these questions about your website?

  • Number of content updates per week?
  • Monthly unique visitors (approximate)?
  • Homepage bounce rate?
  • Most popular page on the site?
  • Year of the last website redesign?

You probably can answer most off the top of your head, right? OK, good. Now we move to the next level:

  • Which items in your main navigation get the most clicks?
  • Which social icon in your footer gets the most clicks?
  • How many video views do the embedded YouTube videos receive?
  • What blog posts see the highest conversion rate to email subscribers?

How many of these could you answer? If it was two or more, give yourself a pat on the back.

It’s important to know the answers to all the questions. When I managed my company’s website, I could answer none of them. It’s a shame because the data is but a few clicks away in Google Analytics. In other words, it’s easy to set up – we just need to do it.

Let’s consider each of these.

1. What gets the most clicks on the main navigation?

Google Analytics proficiency: Beginner

Impact: Medium

What does “main navigation” mean? Let’s consider the CMI site:

The elements of the main navigation are in the top row: Articles, Resources, Research, Topics, etc. Some of these elements are nested, which means that a mouse hovering on them triggers a drop-down menu of categories. For example, under Research are two child pages – Custom Research and Research Insights.

How do your visitors use the homepage navigation? Look at the Google Analytics (Behavior > Site Content > All Pages) and drill down to homepage. From here, pick the option that Andy says people often miss – Navigation Summary:

The Navigation Summary shows where people came from and where they went next – represented in Google Analytics as Previous Page Path and Next Page Path:

To see what pages get clicks from the site’s main navigation, look at the Next Page Path section. According to Andy, “Next Page Path is the performance of your navigation.” He notes that this information often leads to discoveries that “there are little things that get clicked a lot and big things that almost never get clicked.”

The little things getting lots of clicks? Move them to a more prominent position. The things that never get clicked? Remove them in the main navigation.

“Don’t add anything new to your website until you’ve taken something else away,” Andy says. “What should you take away? The worst-performing thing. What’s that? The navigation summary will show you.”

Your site’s navigation summary can inform what you remove from your site, says @crestodina via @cmicontent. #analytics Click To Tweet

2. Which content converts the best?

Google Analytics proficiency: Intermediate

Impact: Large

Throughout the Orbit Media blog, you notice a sign-up area to opt in to Orbit’s email newsletter. That’s one of Andy’s primary goals with his company’s blog – to drive email subscribers. “The ultimate version of content performance is to see who was so inspired that they gave me their email address. I think that’s a lot of trust,” he says.

To understand which pages generate the most conversions, use the Reverse Goal Path report (i.e., Conversions > Goals > Reverse Goal Path). In this example, the top item is a post on blogging statistics, which generated 95 completions:

While the number of conversions is a good indicator, the data could be skewed based on traffic patterns. Maybe the top post generated the most conversions because it had 10 times the number of page views. So, Andy says you should take the review one step further by analyzing the conversion rate for each blog post – take the conversion counts and divide that by number of page views.

To do this Andy created an Excel sheet. He input the conversion counts and the number of page views (from the All Pages report). Andy says, it’s “kind of a hassle. So much work that I only did this every six months.”

Andy being Andy, he discovered a way to automate the process using Google Sheets, which he connects to his Google Analytics account. For a step-by-step guide, read the Orbit Media post Find Your Top Converting Content in 10 Steps Using Google Analytics and Google Sheets.

Andy schedules the report to run automatically every week:

Knowing which posts convert the highest can inform which content you promote even more. These tactics include:

  • Place the posts in a social-sharing rotation.
  • Link to them from your homepage.
  • Buy advertising to drive more traffic to the posts.
  • Place them in employees’ email signatures.

As for the lowest-converting posts? Consider taking them out of your social-sharing rotation and other promotion opportunities.


3. Which social media icon gets the most clicks?

Google Analytics proficiency: Advanced

Impact: Medium

In his presentation, when Andy asked how many people have social media icons in their website’s footer just about everyone raised their hand. When he asked if they knew which icon receives the most clicks, everyone put their hand down.

Do you know which #socialmedia icon in your footer gets the most clicks, asks @crestodina via @cmicontent. #analytics Click To Tweet

When website visitors click on a social media icon, they’re taken to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. – off the website. Here’s how Orbit Media does it:

To measure clicks to these social networks, Andy uses Google Tag Manager to track all off-site clicks. Get the step-by-step process in the Orbit Media post Where’d They Go? Track Every Exit Click Using Google Tag Manager in 10 Steps.

Here’s the result for Andy’s site:

Andy highlighted the social networks, which reveal the order:

  1. LinkedIn
  2. Facebook
  3. Twitter
  4. YouTube

Andy wasn’t expecting to see Facebook rank as high – it’s comfortably ahead of Twitter and YouTube. This result tells Andy his team may want to spend more time and attention on their Facebook presence.

Andy’s rule of thumb with this data is: “Remove the icons that don’t get clicked and get active on those social networks where your audience is active themselves.”

Remove the icons that don’t get clicked and get active on social networks where your audience is active themselves, says @crestodina via @cmicontent. #analytics Click To Tweet

4. Are visitors watching the videos embedded on your site?

Google Analytics proficiency: Advanced

Impact: Medium

Again, Andy polled the audience at his CMWorld presentation. Just about everyone published a video on YouTube and embedded it on their website. But only eight people knew which and how often videos get played.

Tracking of video views again involves Google Tag Manager. Orbit Media has a step-by-step post on the topic, How to Track Video Views in Google Analytics Using Google Tag Manager in 4 Steps.

Andy also shares an important fifth step in the post – create a segment in Google Analytics for viewers and non-viewers. With the segments established, the fun part begins. Go to Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages and select pages with an embedded video.

Answer questions like these:

  • What percentage of people are watching the video?
  • Are the video viewers less likely to bounce? How much less?
  • Do video viewers spend more time on the page? How much more?
  • Are video viewers more likely to convert (subscribe, become a lead, etc.)? How much more?

Here are the video findings from Orbit Media’s site:

The metrics show the impact of video, which can help defend resource allocation, budgets, etc. For Andy, the impact (as illustrated above) proves that the investment in video creation was worth it.


Action-driven analytics

Rarely do we speak to our website visitors, but they speak to us – in web analytics data. If we use data-driven empathy, as Andy calls it, then we can uncover challenges that we unintentionally created and get visitors on their merry way to driving business value.

With the four examples in this post, go discover what the data is trying to tell you and let it save you time in the future.


Here’s an excerpt from Andy’s talk:

You can get more practical advice to help your content marketing (that will save you time) at 2020 Content Marketing World this October. Learn more and register today.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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Want More Business? Narrow Content Focus to Targeted Accounts

Editor’s note: Given the vital role technology plays in achieving content marketing success, we’re taking a closer look at how today’s thought leaders are bringing unique perspectives and personal experiences to the work they do in this space.  

We often think of business growth in terms of “more” – reaching more people, delivering more content, selling more products, and so on. It’s one of the reasons content marketers heavily rely on tech solutions to speed up their processes and scale their campaigns.

We asked Brian Finnerty, vice president of growth marketing at Demandbase, the category creator in Account-Based Marketing, about the main challenges facing B2B marketers today and what he sees as the most important qualities for modern marketers who want to grow their businesses.

Meet Brian

Childhood aspiration: A very famous professional soccer player

College degree: M.A, English; B.A., English and German

Got his start as: Technical writer for an e-learning company during the dot-com boom

What he loves about marketing: It allows me to use both sides of my brain: the creative side, where I can generate material that’s interesting and engaging to people, and the scientific part, which I can use to measure the impact that content has

Productivity playlist: Start Me Up (Rolling Stones); Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana); The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn (The Pogues)

On marketers’ biggest challenge

The single biggest challenge I hear from B2B marketers is that traditional demand-gen efforts have fallen into a cycle of diminishing returns. It’s simply getting harder to generate enough pipeline to support their sales teams.

Biggest challenge for #B2B marketers? Traditional demand gen produces diminishing returns, says @brianfinnerty via @cmicontent. #ContentTECH #ABM Click To Tweet

Be conscious of scaling your growth marketing efforts by focusing on a target list of accounts. Once those accounts have been identified, engage the buying committee at in-market accounts so that your budget is really focused on activities that will generate pipeline. Failing to focus on your best-fit accounts is a true growth inhibitor as you’re wasting budget trying to engage people in the wrong accounts who will never convert to becoming a customer.


Where tech solutions help most

The customer journey typically follows a long and winding path. It’s not uncommon for members of the buying committee to visit your website multiple times in a week and then go dark for an extended period.

Pushing real-time alerts to your sales team once that account becomes active again is a really good way to interact with key contacts at that account when interest in your solution peaks again. This second (round of) interaction is often the decisive one for decision makers. Having an ABM platform that triggers these kinds of sales notifications is particularly effective in winning new business.

Push real-time alerts to #sales when an account becomes active again on your site, advises @brianfinnerty via @cmicontent. #ContentTECH Click To Tweet


What tech can’t do

For all the many benefits campaign automation offers, technology does not remove the creative burden from marketers. Both content and advertising must engage prospects at a human level and inspire them to action. Simply reaching the right people is not enough – you need to reach them with a compelling message that inspires action.

The ideal scenario is a blend of excellent creative that is personalized to an individual’s company, role, or stage of the buying process. This will help marketing messages to resonate with the desired target audience and stand out from the noise.


On sales and marketing collaboration

Close alignment between sales and marketing is a key aspect of account-based marketing. No more bickering over dead-end leads from marketing or shoddy follow-up by sales. Growth nirvana is getting both sales and marketing on the same page around your ideal customer profile, developing content that drives engagement from your target accounts, and tracking intent signals from key contacts on the buying committee within those accounts. It’s simply a much more focused and efficient way to run marketing.

Growth nirvana = #sales and #marketing on the same page, says @brianfinnerty via @cmicontent. #ContentTECH #ABM Click To Tweet

On what he’s learned and what he would teach to others

It’s incumbent on a modern marketer to be able to talk about emerging issues, think about them, and articulate an opinion on them. It starts with being an absolute consumer of content. Read The New York Times, listen to podcasts, watch documentaries on big-picture thinkers like Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates. You can’t read enough or download enough information, but if you’ve got a good way of curating content, it will be a real asset throughout your career.

I always try to keep a curious, open mindset. Being willing to take risks and take on new challenges is an important mindset for marketers because it’s such a fast-evolving landscape and there are so many new tools and technologies out there. As a marketer, you always have to keep an eye out for those big seismic shifts.

Expand how you think about marketing technology

The most promising players in the tech space understand that simply adding volume or velocity is no longer enough to put your content initiatives on a sustainable path to marketing success and business growth. Marketing technology should direct your efforts toward the accounts that are in-market, showing clear buying signals for your solution. It’s also critical to be a continual learner if you want to stay on top of evolving martech and adtech trends and opportunities.


What are you looking to learn more about in the marketing technology landscape? What inspiring voices are helping to expand your industry vision? Tweet your thoughts to @CMIContent using #ContentTECH.  

Join us at ContentTECH Summit this April in San Diego to further your connection to content marketing and technology in real life. Register today. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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