The Hunt for False News: EU Edition

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By Antonia Woodford, Product Manager

Reducing the amount of false news on Facebook is always important, critically so during times of heightened civic discourse, such as the lead-up to major elections. That’s why limiting the spread of misinformation has been a key pillar in our investments around election integrity.

As a company, when it comes to misinformation, we prioritize reducing the harm it causes and often look at its impacts in the aggregate. However, we can learn a lot about trends and nuances by examining specific cases and how they spread. In this second edition of “The Hunt for False News,” we travel to the EU, ahead of May’s parliamentary elections, to take a deeper look at some examples of misinformation that circulated there recently.

What we saw
In January, a photo of a letter supposedly written by the headmistress of a Dresden primary school was posted to Facebook. The letter announces that in the following week, four imams would be visiting the school to introduce the children to the Koran and Islam. This “theme week” would include a compulsory visit to a mosque, and parents were encouraged to buy a Koran and avoid giving their children pork for breakfast on the day of the imams’ visit. The letter closed by saying that the school was pleased to be bringing parents and children closer to Islam, as it is an important topic in Germany.

Was it true?
No. German fact-checker Correctiv used image editing software to take a closer look at the letterhead, which had been blacked out in the photo. By increasing the contrast and brightness, they show that the blacked-out section was not, in fact, a school address, but a nonsense string of letters. Correctiv also notes that the letter circulated on various social networks, and when a Twitter user asked various German officials for comment on the photo, the Saxon Ministry of Education tweeted back that the letter was a fake.

What to know
False news often gains traction when it feeds off of hot-button political and social issues — in this case, the growing population of Muslims in Germany. As we noted in an example about migrants and refugees in the last edition of “The Hunt for False News,” content that disparages or stirs up distrust of distinct groups of people, as this letter does, is another key trend in misinformation.

A few months ago, we expanded our fact-checking efforts to include photos, like this one, and videos. This fake letter falls into the “manipulated or fabricated” category of photo and video misinformation. (The other two major categories are out-of-context media or media with false audio or text claims.) In general, we see that photos and videos make up a greater share of fact-checked posts than article links do. In fact, in the lead-up to the US midterm elections, photos and videos made up two thirds of fact-checker ratings in the U.S.

How we caught it
There are two primary ways we find stories that are likely to be false: either we use machine learning to detect potentially false stories on Facebook, or else they’re identified by our third-party fact-checkers themselves. Once a potentially false story has been found — regardless of how it was identified — fact-checkers review the claims in the story, rate their accuracy and provide an explanation as to how they arrived at their rating. This photo was identified via machine learning.

What we saw
A video shared on Facebook in February shows a man in a suit walking through what looks like a government assembly hall, shaking hands and dropping small cards at a number of empty seats. The caption claims that the man is using Spanish national ID cards to register absent congresspeople as “present” to collect their per diem payments.
Was it true?
No. First off, as fact-checker Maldito Bulo notes, the assembly hall shown in the video isn’t that of the Spanish Parliament — it’s the Ukrainian Parliament. In the Ukrainian Parliament, members must use identification cards to vote, but that is not true in the Spanish Parliament.

What to know
This is a classic example of an “out of context” video, another major category of misinformation. In the past, this video has circulated with claims that it shows the French or Brazilian parliaments, according to Maldito Bulo.

How we found it
The video was identified by Maldito Bulo, who rated it false, leading us to downrank it in News Feed and show Maldito Bulo’s debunking article alongside the video in Related Articles. Our machine learning models picked up additional videos making the same claim and surfaced them to our fact-checkers. Maldito Bulo and another fact-checker, Newtral, rated them false, leading us to take action on them, as well.

These videos were posted in February, before we had expanded our fact-checking partnership to Spain. They were rated soon after the expansion and quickly taken action on, but in the intervening time had been shared tens of thousands of times. This is a strong sign of why it’s important for us to keep developing new methods for fighting misinformation faster and at a larger scale.

What we saw
An article from a now defunct Dutch site citing 11 reasons to avoid getting a flu shot — including a claim that the flu shot can cause Alzheimer’s — was shared to Facebook in December 2018. The article cited research by Dr. Hugh Fudenburg supposedly showing that people who regularly have a flu shot are 10 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. The article link was caught early; it had only been shared about 23 times before it was fact-checked.

Was it true?
Our fact-checking partner Nu.nl declared that one of the claims in the story — that the flu shot increases the risk of Alzheimer’s — was very unlikely and gave the overall article a “mixture” rating on this basis. Nu.nl noted that there is no published research showing the flu vaccine impacts your chance of getting Alzheimer’s; Fudenberg is reported to have spoken about research linking flu shots and the disease at a 1997 conference, but those findings have never been published and there are no supporting scientific theories that make it plausible the flu shot would affect one’s chance of getting Alzheimer’s. Further, while it has been claimed that aluminum and mercury in flu vaccines lead to the disease, Nu.nl reports that neither substance is found in Dutch flu shots.

What to know
While we’ve been working with fact-checkers to rate articles across a range of topics, we also recently announced that we’re taking additional actions to reduce the spread of vaccine hoaxes verified as false by global health organizations, because the spread of health misinformation online can have dangerous consequences offline. We will also be informing people with authoritative information on the topic. (Learn more about our “remove, reduce, inform” framework for cleaning up your News Feed.)

How we caught it
This one was identified via machine learning. Nu.nl matched the claim about the flu vaccine and Alzheimer’s to an article they’d written on the topic in late October, which led to our downranking this Dutch article in News Feed and showing Nu.nl’s debunking article alongside it in Related Articles.

What we saw
In February 2019, a French website published an article claiming that the UN was seeking to legalize pedophilia. The text of the article was copy-and-pasted from an earlier article that has been floating around the internet for several years. The article, which was shared to Facebook the same month, suggests that the UN is demanding sexual rights for children as young as 10 years old, which would protect pedophiles from criminal prosecution and imprisonment.

Was it true?
No. The much-copied article seems to refer to a 2008 declaration by the International Planned Parenthood Federation, an advocate of sexual and reproductive health and rights that has participated in several UN commissions. The declaration, which has no legal value, according to a 2017 article written by our fact-checking partner 20 Minutes, asserts that “sexual rights are human rights” and proposes a framework of general principles about sexuality as well as 10 “sexual rights.”

The declaration does contain material related to the sexuality of children, such as the principle that “the rights and protections guaranteed to people under age eighteen differ from those of adults, and must take into account the evolving capacities of the individual child to exercise rights on his or her own behalf.” However, as 20 Minutes notes, it contains nothing in favor of the legalization of pedophilia. In fact, it asserts that “all children and adolescents are entitled to enjoy the right to special protection from all forms of exploitation.”

What to know
Digging a bit further, it seems that the claims in this copy-and-pasted meme stem from multiple sources, including an interview with the writer Marion Sigaut and a 2012 article from the Center for Family and Human Rights titled “UN May Recognize Sex Rights for Ten-Year Old Children.” As with rumors offline, misinformation can get distorted as it travels across the internet, which is one of the reasons truth can be hard to ascertain online.

How we caught it
This article was found via our machine learning model, which detected it based on the similarity of its central claim to a claim that had been previously debunked by 20 Minutes. When we find possible matches like these, we surface them to fact-checkers to confirm that they are in fact the same claim. 20 Minutes reviewed this new French article and connected it to a fact-checking article they’d written in 2017, which led to our downranking the article in News Feed and showing the 20 Minutes debunk in Related Articles.

What we saw
In January 2018, a Twitter account purporting to belong to Ebba Busch Thor, leader of the Swedish Christian Democrats or Kristdemokraterna (KD), tweeted disapprovingly of those who criticize the Swedish pension system. The post alluded to people’s concern for poor pensioners, saying that in Sweden people get the pension they deserve and that the undesirable alternative would be socialism. The account, @EbbaBuschThorKD, was revealed to be a fake and shut down, but screenshots of the tweet continued to circulate. The screenshot was shared to Facebook in January 2018 by a Page called Nej till EU-Skatt (“No to EU Tax”) and the post began recirculating in January 2019.

Was it true?
No — as our fact-checking partner Viralgranskaren (Viral Examiner) noted in their article debunking the screenshot, @EbbaBuschThorKD was a fake Twitter account that has since been shut down.

What to know
False news can have a long shelf life when its subjects remain in the spotlight. Even though this screenshot first surfaced in 2018, it saw another spike a full year later, during a months-long government deadlock following parliamentary elections in September 2018. As we noted above, another major trend in misinformation is content that disparages distinct groups of people — in this case, low-income people.

Though this particular ruse started on Twitter, fake accounts are a major vector of misinformation on Facebook, too. Blocking fake accounts is one of the most impactful steps in our fight to curb false news. In the third quarter of 2018 — the time period covered by our most recent Community Standards Enforcement Report — we disabled 754 million fake accounts, having found 99.6% of them before users reported them.

How we caught it
This image was detected via machine learning. Viralgranskaren investigated it and submitted a “false” rating and an explainer article, which led us to reduce its distribution in News Feed and show the Viralgranskaren debunk in Related Articles.



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How to Diagnose and Solve JavaScript SEO Issues in 6 Steps

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It’s rather common for companies to build their websites using modern JavaScript frameworks and libraries like React, Angular, or Vue. It’s obvious by now that the web has moved away from plain HTML and has entered the era of JS.

While there is nothing unusual with a business willing to take advantage of the latest technologies, we need to address the stark reality of this trend: Most of the migrations to JavaScript frameworks aren’t being planned with users or organic traffic in mind.

Let’s call it the JavaScript Paradox:

  1. The big brands jump on the JavaScript hype train after hearing all the buzz about JavaScript frameworks creating amazing UXs.
  2. Reality reveals that JavaScript frameworks are really complex.
  3. The big brands completely butcher the migrations to JavaScript. They lose organic traffic and often have to cut corners rather than creating this amazing UX journey for their users (I will mention some examples in this article).

Since there’s no turning back, SEOs need to learn how to deal with JavaScript websites.

But that’s easier said than done because making JavaScript websites successful in search engines is a real challenge both for developers and SEOs.

This article is meant to be a follow-up to my comprehensive Ultimate Guide to JavaScript SEO, and it’s intended to be as easy to follow as possible. So, grab yourself a cup of coffee and let’s have some fun — here are six steps to help you diagnose and solve JavaScript SEO issues.

Step 1: Use the URL inspection tool to see if Google can render your content

The URL inspection tool (formerly Google Fetch and Render) is a great free tool that allows you to check if Google can properly render your pages.

The URL inspection tool requires you to have your website connected to Google Search Console. If you don’t have an account yet, check Google’s Help pages.

Open Google Search Console, then click on the URL inspection button.


In the URL form field, type the full URL of a page you want to audit.

Then click on TEST LIVE URL.

Once the test is done, click on VIEW TESTED PAGE.

And finally, click on the Screenshot tab to view the rendered page.

Scroll down the screenshot to make sure your web page is rendered properly. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the main content visible?
  • Can Google see the user-generated comments?
  • Can Google access areas like similar articles and products?
  • Can Google see other crucial elements of your page?

Why does the screenshot look different than what I see in my browser? Here are some possible reasons:

Step 2: Make sure you didn’t block JavaScript files by mistake

If Google cannot render your page properly, you should make sure you didn’t block important JavaScript files for Googlebot in robots.txt

TL;DR: What is robots.txt?

It’s a plain text file that instructs Googlebot or any other search engine bot if they are allowed to request a page/resource.

Fortunately, the URL Inspection tool points out all the resources of a rendered page that are blocked by robots.txt.

But how can you tell if a blocked resource is important from the rendering point of view?

You have two options: Basic and Advanced.

Basic

In most cases, it may be a good idea to simply ask your developers about it. They created your website, so they should know it well.

Obviously, if the name of a script is called content.js or productListing.js, it’s probably relevant and shouldn’t be blocked.

Unfortunately, as for now, URL Inspection doesn’t inform you about the severity of a blocked JS file. The previous Google Fetch and Render had such an option:

Advanced

Now, we can use Chrome Developer Tools for that.

For educational purposes, we will be checking the following URL: http://botbenchmarking.com/youshallnotpass.html

Open the page in the most recent version of Chrome and go to Chrome Developers Tools. Then move to the Network tab and refresh the page.

Finally, select the desired resource (in our case it’s YouShallNotPass.js), right-click, and choose Block request URL.

Refresh the page and see if any important content disappeared. If so, then you should think about deleting the corresponding rule from your robots.txt file.

Step 3: Use the URL Inspection tool for fixing JavaScript errors

If you see Google Fetch and Render isn’t rendering your page properly, it may be due to the JavaScript errors that occurred while rendering.

To diagnose it, in the URL Inspection tool click on the More info tab.

Then, show these errors to your developers to let them fix it.

Just ONE error in the JavaScript code can stop rendering for Google, which in turn makes your website not indexable.

Your website may work fine in most recent browsers, but if it crashes in older browsers (Google Web Rendering Service is based on Chrome 41), your Google rankings may drop.

Need some examples?

  • A single error in the official Angular documentation caused Google to be unable to render our test Angular website.
  • Once upon a time, Google deindexed some pages of Angular.io, an official website of Angular 2+.

If you want to know why it happened, read my Ultimate Guide to JavaScript SEO.

Side note: If for some reason you don’t want to use the URL Inspection tool for debugging JavaScript errors, you can use Chrome 41 instead.

Personally, I prefer using Chrome 41 for debugging purposes, because it’s more universal and offers more flexibility. However, the URL Inspection tool is more accurate in simulating the Google Web Rendering Service, which is why I recommend that for people who are new to JavaScript SEO.

Step 4: Check if your content has been indexed in Google

It’s not enough to just see if Google can render your website properly. You have to make sure Google has properly indexed your content. The best option for this is to use the site: command.

It’s a very simple and very powerful tool. Its syntax is pretty straightforward: site:[URL of a website] “[fragment to be searched]”. Just take caution that you didn’t put the space between site: and the URL.

Let’s assume you want to check if Google indexed the following text “Develop across all platforms” which is featured on the homepage of Angular.io.

Type the following command in Google: site:angular.io “DEVELOP ACROSS ALL PLATFORMS”

As you can see, Google indexed that content, which is what you want, but that’s not always the case.

Takeaway:

  • Use the site: command whenever possible.
  • Check different page templates to make sure your entire website works fine. Don’t stop at one page!

If you’re fine, go to the next step. If that’s not the case, there may be a couple of reasons why this is happening:

  • Google still didn’t render your content. It should happen up to a few days/weeks after Google visited the URL. If the characteristics of your website require your content to be indexed as fast as possible, implement SSR.
  • Google encountered timeouts while rendering a page. Are your scripts fast? Do they remain responsive when the server load is high?
  • Google is still requesting old JS files. Well, Google tries to cache a lot to save their computing power. So, CSS and JS files may be cached aggressively. If you can see that you fixed all the JavaScript errors and Google still cannot render your website properly, it may be because Google uses old, cached JS and CSS files. To work around it, you can embed a version number in the filename, for example, name it bundle3424323.js. You can read more in Google Guides on HTTP Caching.
  • While indexing, Google may not fetch some resources if it decides that they don’t contribute to the essential page content.

Step 5: Make sure Google can discover your internal links

There are a few simple rules you should follow:

  1. Google needs proper <a href> links to discover the URLs on your website.
  2. If your links are added to the DOM only when somebody clicks on a button, Google won’t see it.

As simple as that is, plenty of big companies make these mistakes.

Proper link structure

Googlebot, in order to crawl a website, needs to have traditional “href” links. If it’s not provided, many of your webpages will simply be unreachable for Googlebot!

I think it was explained well by Tom Greenway (a Google representative) during the Google I/O conference:

Please note: if you have proper <a href> links, with some additional parameters, like onClick, data-url, ng-href, that’s still fine for Google.

A common mistake made by developers: Googlebot can’t access the second and subsequent pages of pagination

Not letting Googlebot discover pages from the second page of pagination and beyond is a common mistake that developers make.

When you open the mobile versions for Gearbest, Aliexpress and IKEA, you will quickly notice that, in fact, they don’t let Googlebot see the pagination links, which is really weird. When Google enables mobile-first indexing for these websites, these websites will suffer.

How do you check it on your own?

If you haven’t already downloaded Chrome 41, get it from Ele.ph/chrome41.

Then navigate to any page. For the sake of the tutorial, I’m using the mobile version of AliExpress.com. For educational purposes, it’s good if you follow the same example.

Open the mobile version of the Mobile Phones category of Aliexpress.

Then, right-click on View More and select the inspect button to see how it’s implemented.

As you can see, there are no <a href>, nor <link rel> links pointing to the second page of pagination.

There are over 2,000 products in the mobile phone category on Aliexpress.com. Since mobile Googlebot is able to access only 20 of them, that’s just 1 percent!

That means 99 percent of the products from that category are invisible for mobile Googlebot! That’s crazy!

These errors are caused by the wrong implementation of lazy loading. There are many other websites that make similar mistakes. You can read more in my article “Popular Websites that May Fail in Mobile First Indexing”.

TL;DR: using link rel=”next” alone is too weak a signal for Google

Note: it’s common to use “link rel=”next’ to indicate pagination series. However, the discoveries from Kyle Blanchette seem to show that “link rel=”next” alone is too weak a signal for Google and should be strengthened by the traditional <a href> links.

John Mueller discussed this more:

“We can understand which pages belong together with rel next, rel=”previous”, but if there are no links on the page at all, then it’s really hard for us to crawl from page to page. (…) So using the rel=”next” rel=”previous” in the head of a page is a great idea to tell us how these pages are connected, but you really need to have on-page, normal HTML links.

Don’t get me wrong — there is nothing wrong with using <link rel=”next”>. On the contrary, they are beneficial, but it’s good to combine these tags with traditional <a href> links.

Checking if Google can see menu links

Another important step in auditing a JavaScript website is to make sure Google can see your menu links. To check this, use Chrome 41.

For the purpose of the tutorial, we will use the case of Target.com:

To start, open any browser and pick some links from the menu:

Next, open Chrome 41. In the Chrome Developer Tools (click Ctrl + Shift + J),  navigate to the elements tab.

The results? Fortunately enough, Google can pick up the menu links of Target.com.

Now, check if Google can pick up the menu links on your website and see if you’re on target too.

Step 6: Checking if Google can discover content hidden under tabs

I have often observed that in the case of many e-commerce stores, Google cannot discover and index their content that is hidden under tabs (product descriptions, opinions, related products, etc). I know it’s weird, but it’s so common.

It’s a crucial part of every SEO audit to make sure Google can see content hidden under tabs.

Open Chrome 41 and navigate to any product on Boohoo.com; for instance, Muscle Fit Vest.

Click on Details & Care to see the product description:

“DETAILS & CARE

94% Cotton 6% Elastane. Muscle Fit Vest. Model is 6’1″ and Wears UK Size M.“

Now, it’s time to check if it’s in the DOM. To do so, go to Chrome Developers Tools (Ctrl + Shift + J) and click on the Network tab.

Make sure the disable cache option is enabled.

Click F5 to refresh the page. Once refreshed, navigate to the Elements tab and search for a product description:

As you can see, in the case of boohoo.com, Google is able to see the product description.

Perfect! Now take the time and check if your website is fine.

Wrapping up

Obviously, JavaScript SEO is a pretty complex subject, but I hope this tutorial was helpful.

If you are still struggling with Google ranking, you might want to think about implementing dynamic rendering or hybrid rendering. And, of course, feel free to reach out to me on Twitter about this or other SEO needs.



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Why brands need to take ASMR more seriously

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Tony Chen

Slime. It’s the biggest crafting craze of 2018 and a rising video sensation. There were nearly 25 billion slime video views last year. Big box retailers are reporting glue shortages across the country.

Crafting brands are getting into the game, sponsoring content and making last minute products like sparkly glue to jump on the trend. That’s great. But, more brands need to look more deeply at trends like slime and its cousin ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response). Both offer an opportunity for brands to connect to consumers in entirely new ways, on video and in real life.

Are you taking ASMR seriously?

Visually stimulating slime videos are a part of a growing category of wildly popular videos that are being labeled ASMR. These videos offer little controversy and provide consumers with a calming time-out from real life. A small set of brands like IKEA and Dove created viral ASMR videos already. Michelob went so far as to create an ASMR Superbowl commercial.

These one-off commercials are not genuine attempts to be part of the trend but rather were created as tongue-in-cheek cultural references. Similar to slime, real ASMR videos are largely the domain of influencers, and they’re banking billions of video views with long engagement times from viewers that take the content seriously.

With such a trend that is mostly new content, with an unknown amount of staying power, most brands will see bigger rewards by advertising against the content rather than creating their own. Across billions of views, slime videos average 1.5x the engagement of YouTube’s average. To do that well, brands will need to reset their approach. Influencers are not impressed with advertisers to date. This ASMR influencer even created a video to try to teach brands to tone down the volume to better assimilate with ASMR content.

The glue that binds

The different slime video types appeal to different audience segments, which is good for a host of brand categories like beauty, retail and even fitness. The influencers creating content offer deeper audience insights that can help brands select the right type of content for their target audiences, and then create a retargeting strategy to further expand their scale. Broad targeting against the latest craze can be an ad spend black hole, but, for trends such as ASMR and slime videos, a little bit of data goes a long way towards creating a strategy that sticks.

Brands often see great success buying media against influencers in the beauty and fashion space with a growing category called “Get ready with me” videos. Brands are often able to specifically identify the demographics engaging with that influencer and get a read on the universe of other content by that creator who has similar watch times and engagement within those same demographics.

Staying on top of slime

Such new and varied trends like slime or ASMR need to be watched carefully. When content views skyrocket around particular events or themes, there can be serious brand safety risks if brands try to ride the wave without adequate monitoring. A recent focus on the role of comments on YouTube shows that even innocent content can contain elements that brands will need to review and refine regularly, especially when parts of the category appeal to kids.

Trending content like slime videos will attract new content creators nearly every day, who can take the genre in new directions. These new videos are nearly always brand safe, but may not be brand suitable, and so it’s still important to keep a watchful eye. For example, Some slime videos include makeup or branded toys like Play-Doh, which an advertiser might not want to advertise against for competitive reasons.

The magic of YouTube is that brands can connect with consumers on very new content topics and themes, well before most linear and traditional digital content creators catch on. Viewers and influencers both take the category seriously. It’s time for brands to do the same.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Tony Chen is CEO and Founder of Channel Factory, an award-winning ad platform which helps top global brands and agencies maximize YouTube advertising. Recognized in the Forbes 30 Under 30, Tony is also an avid angel investor in e-commerce companies Trendy Butler, FabFitFun, a lifestyle subscription service, and Outreach.io, a sales technology company named by Forbes in their Next Billion Dollar Startups list in 2018.

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Content development tips for Account Based Marketing

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Natasha Humphrey

Most B2B marketers are already executing, or are thinking about implementing, an Account Based Marketing strategy. Today, B2B marketing is not about generating a huge volume of leads, but rather is focused on reaching specific individuals at specific target accounts. Have you thought about the content requirements associated with ABM? Here are four tips to ensure that your content development plan supports your Account Based Marketing approach.

Marketing to an account vs. an individual prospect

Shifting your focus from lead-centric to account-centric marketing starts with recognizing that you are marketing to a group of people at a specific company, not a huge pool of unrelated prospects. This is where personalized content comes in. By delivering unique, relevant content to each target account, you enhance the customer experience and improve your overall marketing results. Let’s look at content development needs based on personas, roles, website visitors, and your lead nurturing program.

Build personas for each buyer role/tier

Start by building three to five personas that represent your target account tiers (or roles) and thinking about their job needs and content requirements.  For example:

  • Tier 1: buyers within your target accounts. These are your primary decision makers. Think about the challenges and opportunities associated with their job. What problems are they trying to solve? How do they make decisions? Where do they consume information?
  • Tier 2: influencers within your target accounts. These people may not have purchasing authority, but they do influence the vendor selection and buying process. What do you know about the influencer’s job? What is their role relative to the buyer? What specific challenges are they addressing? How might they inform the process?
  • Tier 3: known experts in your target industries. How do these people establish themselves as industry leaders? What are they talking/writing about? Where do they share ideas? How can you increase their influence?

Develop content for each persona

Engage each persona by providing specific content, delivered in a desirable format. Make sure that the content resonates with this particular role based on their unique needs, challenges and success goals.

“You need to create stories that the right people in your targeted companies would actually like to read and share.”  – Johan Sundstrand, Freya News

Content examples by persona:

  • Tier I buyers, especially those in the evaluation and selection phase, are often looking for product comparisons.  This type of information can easily be delivered in a simple chart or infographic form.
  • Tier II influencers might appreciate a short podcast or video focusing on their particular challenges and needs related to this solution.
  • Tier III industry experts tend to gravitate to in-depth research studies such as a downloadable eBook.

Personalize content based on persona

When developing content, think in terms of appealing to both broad groups and individual people:

  • Create content that is relevant to people in a specific industry
  • Create content designed for all personas at a target account
  • Create content for individual people within a high-priority account

Industry-oriented content. The broadest from of ABM appeals to an industry. Using industry-specific eBooks in conjunction with web personalization presents relevant content and messaging to all prospects within this target industry.

Content for buyers and influencers. The connection at the target account must be made with multiple personas at the buyer and influencer level. The content created around the personas should resonate with where the person is in the buying-cycle.

  • In the awareness stage, informational content and messaging can be used.
  • Moving to the interest and evaluation stage, perhaps personalize a case study or eBook by adding more examples relevant to the target account.

Individualized content. A highly personalized piece of content using a one-to-one communication method targets one or two key individuals within your highest priority ABM accounts. Specific content, such hyper-focused messaging for invitation-only events and direct mailers addressed to the individual person is key.

78% of B2B marketers report higher-quality content creation resulted in increased overall marketing success. 2018 Content Marketing Institute survey

Personalize your website for target accounts

Don’t forget about website visitors! I urge marketers to utilize tools such as Marketo Real-Time Personalization or Optimizely which allow you to identify the company and industry of a website visitor and serve unique, relevant content. Here are two ideas:

  • Many marketers display different versions of the homepage based on visitor insights. For example, when a person in the financial services sector visits your home page, they see messaging, images and content specifically related to their industry.
  • Create account-specific content to feature when people from high-priority target accounts visit your site. For example, messaging, images and content are personalized with the company name and logo.

It’s not always ‘download this’.  You don’t always want to take people to gated content. We find that case study pages with some kind of demo call-to-action work really well in ABM.” Sangram Vajre, Terminus

Implement account nurturing with a human-touch

ABM doesn’t end with your digital efforts. Prospects at target accounts need to be engaged and nurtured over time. Old-school direct mail items can help to build relationships with leads and move them forward in the sales pipeline.

Here are three (non-digital) marketing ideas to support your ABM efforts:

  • Send a recent business report or news article to your high-priority ABM contacts.
  • Handwritten letters never go out of style.
  • Don’t miss the opportunity to send personal invitations to local events.

Align your content strategy with ABM success

Make sure your content strategy is aligned with your buyer personas and addresses their top challenges/needs. Ensure that content is truly helpful at each phase of the customer journey and delivered in a desirable format. Customize and personalize content whenever possible, and don’t forget to utilize non-digital channels.

We’re all familiar with the popular phrase: “content is king.” This adage has never been truer than with a  highly-targeted, personalized, account-based approach to marketing.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Natasha Humphrey began her career in digital marketing in 1999 and specializes in integrating digital marketing strategies and analytics for a variety of business verticals. She has spent her career on the Agency side and is currently managing paid media accounts for SmartSearch Marketing.

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How to establish your 2019 marketing strategy and KPIs

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As you surely know by now, goal-setting is a critical process in every business. You can’t hit goals that you don’t have, after all. And if you have a plan to reach your goals, getting there will become a much more straightforward process than you’d otherwise face without the plan.

Now that 2019 is upon us, it’s time to set up your marketing plan for 2019, establish the KPIs you want to measure, and then develop the strategy to support it.

To help you establish your marketing strategy this year, I’ll talk about:

  • How to establish marketing goals
  • What KPI stands for
  • Common marketing KPIs
  • Other valuable metrics to measure

Who’s ready to talk strategy?!

Establish your goals

The first step to any marketing plan (or really any business strategy plan at all) is to decide your goals and figure out how you’ll measure your progress toward them. For a marketing plan, your goals might include any of the following:

  • Enter new markets
  • Raise brand awareness in existing markets
  • Launch a new product or service
  • And, of course, increase sales and revenue

That list is by no means exhaustive, though! Every business and every agency will have their own goals. You might even need to consider a goal that’s client-facing (improving the customer journey, for example) or even internal (like establishing systems, processes, and communication channels within the marketing department).

Next, it’s time to figure out your KPIs.

What does KPI stand for?

Once you know where you want to go (in other words, your goals), you need to decide how you’re going to measure your progress. Frequently what’s used to measure progress is a metric called the KPI, or key performance indicator.

There are all kinds of KPIs you can use to measure your goals, some of which are accepted industry-wide and others of which are sometimes overlooked but incredibly valuable.

The primary thing to consider as you select the KPIs you want to track is what the results are that you’re driving everything toward. You can collect all the data you want, but if all you’re doing is putting stuff in motion so that it can spit out numbers on the other side — rather than defining The Prize and then keeping your eye on it — your KPIs won’t do you any good.

With that in mind, let’s take a deep dive into some of the most common — and most commonly overlooked — KPIs for your marketing plan.

Marketing KPIs about money

The purpose of a business is to make money, plain and simple. If a business isn’t primarily concerned with making money, it’s not a business (and it won’t be in business for long).

So for that reason, you’ll want to keep an eye on some performance indicators around your revenue and sales. These are the main ones:

Revenue

Revenue is the amount of money that comes in the door. Many marketers and business owners see that number and stop there, but revenue is hardly the only money number you need to know. It’s sometimes called gross profit, and it’s the money you make before the expenses come out. You could be making a 7-figure revenue, but if your expenses eat up the majority of your revenue, the business might still be in jeopardy. That’s why you also need to look at …

Net profit

Net profit is how much money is left over after your expenses are paid out. Net profit and revenue work closely together, and ideally you’re making the space between your revenue and your profits as big as possible. (This is called your margin, and the fatter your margin is, the more money the business is actually making.)

Sales growth

Sales growth marks the increase or decrease in sales between two points of time. You might want to measure a few different time periods, such as total sales growth this year vs. last year; this quarter and last quarter; this month and last month; this month and the same month last year, and more. You measure growth by using the “percent change” calculation — (new – old) / old x100 (and that final number is the percent change, or sales growth).

Revenue per client (a.k.a. lifetime customer value)

LCV is the total number of dollars a customer spends with your business over the entire course of your relationship with them. Most marketers will have a goal to raise this number over time.

Revenue per employee

This is fairly straightforward in theory but can get a little muddy in practice, depending on how your agency is set up. You can calculate the total revenue and compare it to the total number of employees regardless of their role in bringing in that revenue, and/or calculate how much revenue any given employee is responsible for bringing in.

Average contract value

What’s the average price attached to the contracts you sign with clients? (In eCommerce language, this is equal to average cart value — the average value of the transactions in a given period.)

Marketing KPIs about clients, customers, and leads

A lot of the lead and client acquisition numbers play into the advertising puzzle. The idea is to figure out how many customers you need to find in a certain timeframe (the year, for example), and then work backward to determine how much traffic you need to be driving based on previous experience. These are the KPIs to measure (and thankfully, many ad platforms help you track and export them fairly easily).

Leads generated

How many leads did you generate in a given timeframe, whether or not they became clients?

Cost per customer acquisition

Once you know the cost of customer acquisition, you can set targets and budget accordingly.

Cost per lead

Measuring your cost per lead will show you what’s working and what’s not in your ads. Cost per lead, combined with other critical data, all play a part in advertising decisions to keep you profitable and scale.

Lead to customer ratio

Knowing how many leads become customers will let you figure out how many leads you need to get to hit your customer acquisition targets. It’s one of the string of numbers that goes into lead generation advertising decisions.

Traffic to lead ratio

Traffic to lead ratio is another piece of the advertising puzzle. It tells you how many views/clicks/hits you need before someone becomes a lead. When you know how much each lead costs, how many leads become customers, and how many customers you need, you can use the traffic-to-lead ratio to figure out how much traffic you should drive to hit your customer goals.

Average client tenure

How long do your clients stay? Do they tend to be a once-and-done project, or have you developed ways to keep your clients with you over the long run? Things like maintenance packages and other ongoing services can increase average client tenure.

Number and source of client referrals

Who’s referring clients to you? What can you do to improve this?

Marketing KPIs about clients, customers, and leads

A lot of the lead and client acquisition numbers play into the advertising puzzle. The idea is to figure out how many customers you need to find in a certain timeframe (the year, for example), and then work backward to determine how much traffic you need to be driving based on previous experience. These are the KPIs to measure (and thankfully, many ad platforms help you track and export them fairly easily).

Leads generated

How many leads did you generate in a given timeframe, whether or not they became clients?

Cost per customer acquisition

Once you know the cost of customer acquisition, you can set targets and budget accordingly.

Cost per lead

Measuring your cost per lead will show you what’s working and what’s not in your ads. Cost per lead, combined with other critical data, all play a part in advertising decisions to keep you profitable and scale.

Lead to customer ratio

Knowing how many leads become customers will let you figure out how many leads you need to get to hit your customer acquisition targets. It’s one of the string of numbers that goes into lead generation advertising decisions.

Traffic to lead ratio

Traffic to lead ratio is another piece of the advertising puzzle. It tells you how many views/clicks/hits you need before someone becomes a lead. When you know how much each lead costs, how many leads become customers, and how many customers you need, you can use the traffic-to-lead ratio to figure out how much traffic you should drive to hit your customer goals.

Average client tenure

How long do your clients stay? Do they tend to be a once-and-done project, or have you developed ways to keep your clients with you over the long run? Things like maintenance packages and other ongoing services can increase average client tenure.

Number and source of client referrals

Who’s referring clients to you? What can you do to improve this?

Marketing KPIs about conversions, content, and social media

Conversions and leads go hand in hand. Ultimately you want all your conversion statistics to be a high as possible, but it’s a lot to track! The more you know, however, the more you’re able to make adjustments at any stage of the funnel. (Or the flywheel, if you’re following Hubspot’s new inbound marketing framework.) These are some of the critical statistics you’ll need to monitor for your content distribution and audience.

Inbound marketing ROI

ROI is the holy grail of KPIs, right? Well…maybe. You have to make sure what you’re putting into marketing is coming out the other end with positive results. Sometimes ROI can be tricky to nail down and identifying the specific marketing efforts that are bringing in positive returns can take some time, but always keep an eye on ROI as you make adjustments.

Landing page conversion rates

Generally speaking, landing pages should have at least a 20% conversion rate, though many times they’ll convert at 50% or higher (especially if your ad targeting is spot-on). If your landing pages aren’t converting at 20%, the page needs to be examined and adjusted.

Email open rates

There’s no one universal email open rate, but generally speaking you’ll want your open rates to be hanging out around 30% at least. Larger lists tend to veer lower in open rates. If you’re nowhere near 20-30%, bulk up on subject lines and see what you can discover.

Email conversion rates

What percentage of the people who open your emails become leads or clients? There’s no standard benchmark for this figure, but keeping track of your internal conversion rates can inform policy and give you something to target in your marketing strategy. (I personally like to see my email conversion rate be somewhere in the ballpark of 10% of the open rate. In other words, if the open rate is 30%, I’d expect the conversion rate to be anywhere from maybe 2% to 4%.)

Social media traffic stats

These numbers can help you pinpoint where your ideal leads and clients are hanging out online, which means you can target your advertising more finely. It might also show you which platforms are under-performing over the long haul, so you can consider revamping or eliminating your company presence there.

Mobile vs. desktop leads and conversion rates

While this seems a bit like splitting hairs and getting too far into the nitty-gritty, it’s actually very helpful to know whether your leads and conversions are coming from desktop or mobile. This gives you some good insights into the behavior and preferences of your clients, as well as some demographic suggestions (younger buyers tend to buy on mobile more frequently). But more importantly, it gives you an idea of how well your mobile site is doing. Many websites aren’t optimized for mobile, and they’re leaving lots of potential leads and conversions on the table as a result. If your mobile conversions are flagging, the first thing you can do is work on the user experience of your website on mobile.

Valuable customer service KPIs you might be overlooking

There’s seriously no end to the number of KPIs you could track. These are some of the most frequently overlooked ones, but I wanted to include them because they do offer some key insights and some low-hanging fruit as far as things like customer retention and profitability go.

These aren’t necessarily directly marketing-related, but happy customers are the best social proof you can ever ask for, and social proof is a massive part of the marketing picture. Once you can be assured you’ve got happy clients and customers, you can begin to think of ways to include them in your marketing efforts.

Things like referral programs, online reviews, and case studies or success stories can become a huge part of a booming marketing department, and it all starts with knowing how happy your customers are.

Sales team response time

How long does it take your sales team to respond to an inquiry? This could mean email reply time, message return time, or even how many times the phone rings before they pick up.

Client satisfaction

This metric measures overall satisfaction a client or customer has. You can target specific areas (like salesperson responsiveness, number of rings before answering, satisfaction after a specific customer service interaction, etc.) or just ask for overall satisfaction periodically.

Net promoter score

This is when you follow up after a customer service interaction and ask how likely that customer or client is to recommend the company to someone they know, based on the interaction they just had. This is a great customer service metric to measure, as it gives you information “straight from the horse’s mouth” about how highly your clients perceive your company.

Ready, set, measure!

They say knowledge is power, and they’re right. Once you’re measuring your KPIs and comparing them to the goals you’d like to hit, you can start making adjustments.

Each area of your marketing budget should have its own figures to measure. Ultimately it all points to customer acquisition, and each bit has its own role to play. One of the most expensive parts of marketing is the advertising, so it might make sense to nail down your customer targets, your customer journey conversion rates (traffic to lead, lead to customer, etc.), and then allocate your resources in support of that customer journey.

The other pieces of the marketing puzzle will start to fit together more easily once you’re clear on that customer journey and the numbers associated with it.

Ready for that marketing degree?

If you’re new to the KPI arena, this list might be overwhelming. If that’s you, don’t panic. Do the best you can, take a look at the business, and see where you need to start bulking up your measuring habits.

Remember to check any ad, funnel, and email platforms you’re using, as many of them will keep a lot of the conversion-based statistics automatically. You don’t necessarily have to start from scratch.

No matter what, though, don’t keep your head buried in the sand. The more you know, the more you can make informed strategic decisions that lead directly to growth!

Next: Streamline your marketing efforts with these WordPress plugins!

If you’re a marketer working with WordPress sites, plugins are the perfect way to streamline your efforts! Finding the perfect one to help you meet your goals, however, can be a little like A/B testing a CTA – it takes research, testing, and tracking results to know exactly what pays off. Now multiply that by all the useful options in the plugin directory, and you’re looking at a laundry list to prioritize.

So, where do you start? How do you know which WordPress plugins will help your marketing efforts, and in turn, help your business thrive? Step one: Download this ebook for our favorite list of plugins for marketers!

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Spotify acquires Parcast storytelling podcast studio

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Chris Sherman

Spotify announced Tuesday that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Parcast, a storytelling-driven podcast studio. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

“The addition of Parcast to our growing roster of podcast content will advance our goal of becoming the world’s leading audio platform,” said Dawn Ostroff, Spotify Chief Content Officer.

Parcast runs 18 high-quality scripted, story-driven podcast series including Serial Killers, Unsolved Murders, Cults and Conspiracy Theories and the studio’s first fiction series, Mind’s Eye. These genres are particularly appealing to women, according to Spotify. Over seventy-five percent of the Parcast audience is female.

“In three years, we have created a production house that has grown exponentially and hit a chord with mystery and true-crime fans, especially women, across all 50 states and around the world,” said Ostroff.

Parcast will continue to develop its own stories. In addition to the podcast series Parcast currently runs, the studio is developing more than twenty new scripted shows focused on topics like crimes of passion, the justice system, and the world’s most resilient survivors which Spotify plans to launch by the end of 2019.

Why you should care

The podcast industry as a whole is growing, and Spotify considers itself the second biggest podcasting platform in the world, behind Apple. The acquisition further bolsters both Spotify’s competitive edge and podcast advertising revenues.

The IAB and PwC forecast that podcasting ad revenue will more than double to $659 million by 2020.

While Spotify doesn’t play ads to Premium subscribers, some podcasts might have third-party ads within their episodes. For some marketers trying to reach certain demographics, podcast advertising could prove to be a effective channel. Whitepapers like the IAB’s Podcast Playbook: A Guide for Marketers are a good starting point for marketers interested in exploring more about the opportunity. Spotify’s Ad Studio program also offers extensive resources and tools for advertisers.

More about the deal

  • Spotify has said it plans to spend up to $500 million on podcast start-ups this year.
  • In February, Spotify spent $337 million to acquire the Gimlet Media podcast network and production house Anchor.
  • Spotify claims more than 200 million global users, far behind Apple’s nearly 1 billion users.

About The Author

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Reaching the elusive digitally-driven millennial consumer

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Dallas Lawrence

Nielsen describes the millennial generation as today’s “most coveted consumer demographic from a marketer engagement perspective,” and brands and agencies are investing millions in digital advertising to reach them.

Not only are millennials on pace to become the nation’s largest living adult generation in 2019, but according to the latest projections they are also wielding enormous buying power. Research shows that by this time next year, millennials may spend as much as $1.4 trillion annually.

These digital natives are using a wider range of devices in their daily lives and consuming digital content via an ever-expanding array of fragmented channels, presenting a significant challenge for marketers. What’s more, traditional mass market digital strategies are falling by the wayside as millennials continue to demand more authentic advertising experiences.

As brand marketers seek to tap into the explosive spending power of this ascending generation there are several key challenges that must be overcome to better unify the fractured digital landscape they live in and gain a deeper understanding of how to reach, engage and ultimately convert millennials in the right way.

Understanding the channels that matter

There’s no question that millennials spend a lot of their time on their mobile devices. Eight out of 10 spend at least three hours on their devices daily, and one out of five spend six hours or more per day — that’s one out of every four hours in the day, or one-third of their waking hours spent consuming mobile content. In a recent survey conducted by the Harris Poll, millennials were found to spend nearly 5x more time on a mobile device than watching live TV, which isn’t as surprising knowing that 40 percent of millennials don’t spend any time watching live TV at all. Let that sink in.  More than a third of all members of this rapidly growing and valuable demographic watch zero, as in not one minute, of live broadcast television.

Live TV isn’t dead yet, but it certainly is not the paramount vehicle for millennial brand engagement. One-third of millennials have already cut the cord, and nearly half plan to get rid of cable services within the next year.

Research from Park Associates reveals that 85 percent of millennials in the U.S. subscribe to at least one OTT video service, such as (Netflix, Hulu, etc.).  The reality of OTT is that brands can rethink their “TV budgets,” moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach, to one where they can have hundreds or potentially thousands of unique messages designed to engage the desires of different consumers all watching the same program.

The speed at which the millennial generation adapts to new formats and screens can be dizzying, but it also means that marketers must constantly evolve beyond the traditional platforms that may have resonated with previous generations. This includes channels that are just beginning to emerge, such as audio. Research shows that 50 percent of millennials who own voice-enabled devices talk to their smart speakers daily.

Content creators and brands looking to reach this digitally-driven generation must recognize voice as an engaging, relevant platform for reaching a more connected audience. In the not too distant future, the thought of ever using a keyboard to search for content or shop for goods or services will likely become as foreign to this generation as using a rotary telephone. This will have profound implications for how brand marketers surface content and engage consumers in new, real-time and truly relevant ways. And the good news is that early indications are very positive. Thirty-nine percent of consumers find ads on smart speakers to be more enjoyable and engaging than traditional tactics, such as banner ads or TV ad spots.

Meeting millennials where they’re at

As this generation continues to integrate digital devices into their everyday lives, they’re changing the way they shop as well.  We’re now seeing this generation engage more directly with specific products they love as opposed to broadly engaging with a specific brand.

Direct-to-consumer businesses are proliferating because millennial consumers expect to be known and understood, and they want to work with companies that value their uniqueness and perceived individuality. Ultimately, millennials will opt to purchase a uniquely customized outfit from ASOS or the perfect meal from HelloFresh, rather than buying from a portfolio name that perhaps their parent’s generation once routinely shopped. Given this desire for one-on-one engagement, brands both big and small must acknowledge customer wants and needs and deliver on the types of experiences they desire before the consumer even has to ask.

Millennials have a growing expectation of authentic, personalized experiences that reach the channels they use most but at the same time it is critical not to lose sight of the fact that millennials are far from monolithic. There’s significant divergence within this group, specifically when it comes to what they expect from the brands they support.

This is why walled garden personalized advertising experiences within social channels like Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat tend to resonate so well with millennials. Data is being used to personalize ads to their interests, and advertisers go beyond just “targeting millennials” but can go much deeper in terms of recognizing an individual’s specific interests.

For brands seeking to cash in on the cresting millennial consumer wave it is no longer enough to just recognize millennials are online. Marketers must evolve their strategies to truly embrace one-to-one engagements that unlock the power of data-driven, people-based marketing, to deliver the personal and valued engagements that genuinely resonate with the world’s largest generation.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Dallas Lawrence is currently the chief communications and brand officer at OpenX, the largest independent advertising exchange. Prior to joining OpenX, Dallas Lawrence served as the chief communications officer for Rubicon Project, led global communications and government affairs for Mattel and served as the chief global digital strategist for Burson-Marsteller. During more than a decade in Washington, DC, Dallas served as a press secretary on Capitol Hill prior to joining President Bush’s communications team, leading outreach efforts for the President’s signature domestic policy initiative No Child Left Behind. Dallas would later deploy to Baghdad, Iraq, on behalf of the White House to serve as a spokesperson for the Coalition. Upon returning from Baghdad, Dallas joined the communications team of Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld where he served as the Pentagon’s director of public liaison for both Rumsfeld and his predecessor Secretary Gates. He has been named both the “Crisis Manager of the Year” by PR News and “Social Media Professional of the Year.” In 2013, PR Week named him one of the 40 most influential leaders in PR. Dallas was previously a commissioned officer in the United States Navy and earned a BA in political science from the University of California at Berkeley and an MA in government from The Johns Hopkins University.

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How to make old content marketing new again

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Amy Gesenhues

A major benefit of high-performance content marketing is that it doesn’t have to retire. If a blog post, article or any piece of content does exceptionally well pulling in traffic, even for a short span of time, the topic can inform future content marketing choices.

Expert content marketers know this and often recreate and update content that has delivered, giving it a second life and more opportunities to drive bigger results.

From 50 clicks a day to more than 200

SEO consultant and podcast host Dan Shure was able to take one of his client’s previous columns that had been part of a series answering reader questions and turn it into article that delivered substantial organic search results.

The original column was part of a reader response series on Mark’s Daily Apple, a fitness and nutrition website. The ‘Dear Mark’ column was a response to a question about intermittent fasting, serving only one objective – to offer reader feedback. The objective shifted when the column was identified as content that could be repurposed.

“The objective did change because [Mark’s Daily Apple website owners] saw over the years that the article originally drove search traffic, but that search traffic to this single article had declined. The search traffic was accidental, so the objective became to totally refresh the old ‘Dear Mark’ entry into an actual up-to-date post which could drive search traffic.”

The Process

Shure took the following steps to repurpose the ‘Dear Mark’ column:

  1. To start, he instructed the client to move an exact copy of the original piece to a noindexed archived page on the website.
  2. He then advised the client to completely rewrite the original content as an actual article (versus the reader-response format).
  3. The previous content was replaced with the newly re-written version of the article, but remained at the original URL because it had gained authority over the years.
  4. A link to the archived (noindexed) version of the content was included within the new article along with a note to the reader explaining the content had been updated, but that they could still read the original version.
  5. Also, a link was included within the archived version back to the new content.

Mark’s Daily Apple: Old Content vs. New Content

“The set-up was done with both the user experience and the Googlebot’s experience in mind,” said Shure. Users would see a note that the article had been updated and that they could visit the archived version if they wanted, while the Googlebot could identify the connection between the old and new version, but not index the archived version.

The Results

Without any extra promotion, the newly produced article resulted in high visibility and a significant upshot in traffic once Google picked up the updated article.

“The article went from barely 50 clicks a day to well over 200 clicks a day, and still maintains 125 clicks per day,” said Shure.

Turning a ‘listicle’ into a lasting piece of content

Brad Smith, founder of the content marketing agency Codeless, said his team often refreshes old content to keep it relevant and deliver better results.

“Basically, we take content that historically performed well, but is starting to slip, and rewrite it, update, etc.,” said Smith. One example provided by Smith included an update to one of his company’s own “listicles” that involved 22 tips and approximately 5,500 words.

“The content was solid, but kind of all over the place. And even though it ranked fourth without any real promotion or link building, we could tell that it didn’t really perform for us in terms of driving leads,” said Smith.

Solid content, but lackluster performance

Google Analytics showed the original piece had an 89.61 percent bounce rate and 88.86 percent exit rate from organic search visitors.

“Literally, everyone that came to this page almost left immediately,” said Smith, “Our goal was to completely rework it so that people wanted to actually stick around, and also bring it more in line with our current positioning for potential lead gen.”

Smith’s team rewrote the piece entirely, reducing the word count to 1,500 words. They also added a “real life” example within the content to increase engagement and an audio version of the content recorded by a voice actor. Custom, branded images were included throughout the content to illustrate different points and the team tested headline variations to determine which performed better.

The content was also translated into multilingual versions for wider consumption, and Codeless ran Facebook ads around it to accelerate results.

Added benefits of supplemental content

“Creating custom, branded images and video didn’t just help on-site content performance, it also provided us with ammunition for creating better ads too,” said Smith, “One little investment boosted page engagement and lowered ad costs. In the three ads we created for this campaign, the headline and description copy were exactly the same. The only difference was the media asset.”

Smith says the “Custom” variant of the ad outperformed the other two with a $0.439 cost-per-click (CPC). The “Custom” version of the ad used a custom image versus the “Featured” version which defaulted to the featured image used in the post. Smith’s team found that the “Featured” version with the default image performed the worst of the three ads at $1.486 CPC. It’s worth noting here the custom image far outperformed the featured image as most companies do not use custom media in their social posts, instead relying on the featured image that is automatically inserted within the ad.

“That’s another 70 percent CPC cost savings on social distribution that most companies leave on the table by sticking with the default featured blog post image,” said Smith.

The video option was second at $0.617 CPC and a 1.051 percent click-through-rate. Overall, Codeless was able to drop exit rates for the content by 23 percent and increased the average session duration from SERP visitors by 280 percent.


About The Author

Amy Gesenhues is Third Door Media’s General Assignment Reporter, covering the latest news and updates for Marketing Land and Search Engine Land. From 2009 to 2012, she was an award-winning syndicated columnist for a number of daily newspapers from New York to Texas. With more than ten years of marketing management experience, she has contributed to a variety of traditional and online publications, including MarketingProfs.com, SoftwareCEO.com, and Sales and Marketing Management Magazine. Read more of Amy’s articles.

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What a year’s worth of publisher responses can teach you about digital PR

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Domenica D’Ottavio

Most marketers agree that if you can get your content in front of the eyes of journalists at mainstream online publishers, it has a good chance of being shared widely across the internet. Journalists hold the power of the press, but getting their attention is more competitive than ever, with a nearly 5:1 ratio of PR people to journalists.

Crafting a perfect subject line and getting the journalist to open your email pitch is the first step. It’d be great if we got a reply from every email we send, but that’s simply not the case. That’s why when a writer does respond, it’s important to pay attention to what they say. Our team at Fractl records every response we receive from journalists verbatim so we can identify trends and improve our outreach. We analyzed all the publisher feedback we received in 2018 and here’s what we learned.

Methodology: For this internal study, we analyzed all publisher feedback we recorded from 2018. Along with a language sentiment API, we aimed to determine whether or not the language journalists used in their feedback was more positive, neutral, or more negative. As you’ll learn, all of the assets show feedback on a positive scale – the closer the sentiment score is to approaching one, the more positive it is, the closer it is to approaching zero, the less positive it is.

Takeaway #1: The higher-tier the publisher, the more rigorous the editorial standards

Our analysis found that the higher the Domain Authority of the publisher, the less positive the journalist’s feedback was likely to be. For PR pros that have even the least experience, this makes perfect sense.

What do the New York Times, CNN, TIME and The Washington Post have in common? They’re all top-tier publishers (with a Moz Domain Authority of 90 or above) that we have placed our clients’ content marketing campaigns with directly in 2018.

These top-tier publishers lead the way when it comes to media companies that have been awarded the most Pulitzer Prizes. Campaigns pitched to journalists at these extremely reputable and competitive publishers must be authoritative, methodologically sound and newsworthy even to be granted a reply by a journalist.

As a standard, we use Moz’s Domain Authority score as a way to categorize publishers as top-tier, mid-tier and low-tier. While the debate about DA is contentious among SEOs and digital marketers, we find it useful for our digital PR team because it gives a good overview of the trust and authority of publishers relative to each other.

According to our study, when journalists at these top-tier publishers do respond, they’re much more likely to ask about the methodology or the source of the content. Often, data from a campaign needs to be backed up by an expert in the field for it to meet their editorial guidelines, so they want to make sure any data-driven content is methodologically sound.

When we analyzed feedback from websites with a Domain Authority of less than 89, the top feedback we received from journalists were focused on complementing our work. We speculate that this occurs because lower-tier publishers have less stringent editorial guidelines and therefore are quicker to give praise on content they receive for their coverage.

Takeaway #2: Who you pitch matters as much as what you pitch

What is the difference between a staff writer, an editor and a contributor? If your first thought is “not much,” you may want to reconsider. Knowing the difference between these three common roles for publishers can both inform your list building process and give your digital PR team a stronger knowledge base when approaching publishers with content.

Staff writers are typically salaried employees that write around a specific beat. They can come up with their own content but have to pitch it to their editors first for approval.

Staff editors still write stories, but they publish their own work with much less frequency. Pitching a staff editor has the added benefit of reaching directly to the person that decides whether to assign a story or not.

Contributors are writers that work on a freelance model and have to pitch ideas or fully-written articles to editors for approval, typically every week. They are usually paid per word or per finished piece.

In our analysis, we found that contributors are likely to respond more positively than staff editors and staff writers. This may be true because they are not constricted to a specific beat and receive fewer pitches than members of the editorial staff do. While they respond with the most positive feedback on average than other roles, they ultimately have less deciding power when it comes to determining their publication’s editorial calendar.

When it comes to writers with a specific beat or vertical, we found that feedback from travel writers offered the most positive feedback on average, while finance writers were less favorable in their responses.

Takeaway #3: Feedback type and sentiment are related

Unsurprisingly, compliments on our work were the most positive Feedback Type, on average.

Other categories of feedback that ranked second and third most positive on the sentiment scale were “Timing/Editorial Calendar is Full” and “Wants Expert Opinion.”

For our team, this ranking makes perfect sense. Often, a journalist will provide very complimentary feedback on the campaign, only to decline because of issues with timing or their editorial calendar. We’ve heard it dozens of times: “I’d love to cover, but I’m booked for the week. I’ll keep it on file.”

In the case of wanting an expert interview, a response that requests for additional commentary basically guarantees a placement is in our future. If they’re asking for an expert quote, they’re probably already writing the article!

The least positive responses came when the journalist thought the content was not newsworthy, had questions about the source, or had just covered the same topic recently.

Katie Roof, a journalist writing for the Wall Street Journal, explains this perfectly with her tweet:

While it’s important to research your contact in advance to make sure they cover the content topic, targeting, in this case, may have been too good. To avoid getting blasted on the PR wall of shame for this offense, it’s important to offer a fresh perspective or an otherwise unexplored angle on their topic area when pitching to a journalist – otherwise, it can seem inauthentic and as if you’re just looking for a link or press mention for your client.

Tying it all together

After six years of pitching journalists from every corner of the internet, our team has developed a deep intuition for understanding the kinds of content that publishers want to cover and how to pitch those topics to earn the best response.

For example, if you find that journalists like one content type more than another, or that travel writers prefer informal pitches and finance writers prefer data-heavy pitches, adjust your strategy based on the data and you will see response rates, and placement rates, soar.

With competition for press more fierce than ever, informing your outreach strategy with your own internal data can give you an edge over other PR professionals.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Domenica D’Ottavio is the brand relationship manager at Fractl, a boutique growth agency based in Delray Beach, Florida. When she’s not musing over the latest developments in content marketing and digital PR, you can find her planning her next international trip, likely over a bowl of risotto.

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Adobe, WordPress, Google Docs lead CabinetM list of content marketing tools

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Amy Gesenhues

Content marketing technology is the sixth most common layer of customers’ martech stacks, said Anita Brearton, CEO of CabinetM, a marketing technology management platform. And based on her company’s list, Adobe, Google and WordPress are the most common of that mix.

“There is no longer a clean line between content marketing and marketing technology,” said Brearton. “We are all content marketers in one way or another. And, as such, we all use one or more pieces of technology to create, deliver, manage or measure the effectiveness of content.”

Brearton pulled a list of the most often used content marketing tools among her clients and found the number one tool was Adobe Creative Cloud, which CabinetM classifies as a content creation solution.

Top 10 Content Marketing Tools based on CabinetM data:

  1. Adobe Creative Cloud (Adobe)
  2. WordPress (Automattic)
  3. Google Docs (Google)
  4. Canva (Canva)
  5. Drupal (Drupal Association)
  6. SharePoint (Microsoft)
  7. Sitecore Web Experience Manager (Sitecore)
  8. Curata Curation Software (Curata)
  9. InVision (InVision)
  10. LiveChat (LiveChat Software)

Of the top 20 content marketing tools from Brearton’s list, five were content creation platforms, three of which showed up in the top 10: Adobe Creation Cloud, Canva and InVision. While content creation platforms made up 20 percent of Brearton’s top 20 most popular content marketing tools, the bulk of the list was divided evenly between content management/workflow solutions, content management systems, content marketing platforms and chat systems.

“One of the biggest trends is that marketers are viewing chat as a content marketing tool and are recognizing that it offers a way to engage customers and enhance the customer experience,” said Brearton, “There are three chat tools in the top 20!”

Drift, a content marketing/chat solution focused on “conversational marketing” came in 16th in Brearton’s list of top 20 content marketing platforms. Brearton said the tool was a big driver in the chat trend.

What makes a great platform? Brad Smith, founder of the content creation firm Codeless, says the true value of content marketing technology isn’t that it allows content marketers to do more, but that enables them to do less.

“Martech removes the time-consuming bottlenecks, making preparation easier, collaboration more seamless, and distribution more consistent. That frees up content marketers to spend more time prioritizing the most difficult part: starting at a blank, white screen and creating something from scratch,” said Smith.

When asked which content marketing technology the team at Codeless finds most helpful, Smith points to everything from an SEO content template from SEMrush, a workflow management platform and a Facebook ads tool.

“We use AdEspresso for social paid promotion,” said Smith, who disclosed the platform is also a client of Codeless. “We pay for an account and use it to automatically run split tests for both ad creative and placements to bring down distribution costs. You can set the variables, and then it will automatically pause under-performing placements and creative, or increase budget on others that are working well.”

One of the content creation tools in Smith’s arsenal of content marketing tech is Grammarly. Codeless uses it to catch glaring errors, but Smith said it also helps his team check for plagiarism (both automated and manual) when contracting out writing assignments to freelancers.

“For example, we commonly see less experienced writers will basically rip off content that’s already out there and that puts us and our clients at risk,” said Smith.

Snail mail? You might expect something like AI or virtual reality to come up as the next big thing in content marketing, but Brearton has another idea: direct mail.

“In the world of what’s old is new again, marketers are back to focusing on direct mail as part of their omnichannel programs because the response rates are very good, and direct mail serves as a great reinforcement for mobile and online initiatives,” said Brearton.

CabinetM recently released its direct mail technology stack with assistance from the United States Postal Service and Postalytics. The stack includes more than 175 martech solutions aimed at creating, personalizing, distribution and tracking direct mail campaigns.

In a release announcing the direct mail technology stack, USPS vice president of product innovation Gary Reblin said that direct mail response rates are often 30 times higher than display ads and nine-times higher than email ads.

“What’s new and exciting is that there are lots of new tools that make it easy to create, produce, and deliver personalized direct mail on demand, as well as tools that provide the means to track and measure the effectiveness of direct mail programs,” said Brearton.


About The Author

Amy Gesenhues is Third Door Media’s General Assignment Reporter, covering the latest news and updates for Marketing Land and Search Engine Land. From 2009 to 2012, she was an award-winning syndicated columnist for a number of daily newspapers from New York to Texas. With more than ten years of marketing management experience, she has contributed to a variety of traditional and online publications, including MarketingProfs.com, SoftwareCEO.com, and Sales and Marketing Management Magazine. Read more of Amy’s articles.

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