Feeding the Internet Content Beast

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Honey, it’s time!

I remember the night a friend came home from bar hopping and said all she could hear in the background was “wah-wah-wah.com”, “wah-wah-wah.com”. That was the late 90s. I remember the number of cars on the streets of San Francisco tripling overnight. 

Oops … false alarm

I looked into digital jobs, but didn’t understand the value of affiliate marketing or getting “web hits”. I didn’t understand where the money was supposed to come from. I sat out the internet’s shall we say, false labor and started a small business. When tech crashed, the streets of San Francisco positively dried up. The tech workers left, businesses shuttered, and you couldn’t swing a dead cat in this town without hitting an unemployed investment banker.

Congratulations!

But the baby survived to term and was finally born for real. The internet came back in a big way in the early 2000s and I jumped on. I love emerging tech, I love having been in on the early days of web experiences, web analytics, email marketing, marketing optimization technology, social media, big data, content marketing and now content strategy.

What a growth spurt!

To my eyes, the internet is now an adolescent. We’re still not sure what it’s going to be when it grows up. What we do know, is that right now the internet is growing by leaps and bounds every day and it’s always hungry. The internet has an insatiable appetite for content. Content marketers must radically scale their efforts in order to remain relevant to customers—and to the search engines.

But there are terrific tools and resources to help us to do just that. Here are a few I’ve been using and have been super happy with.

What’s in my content marketing toolkit

SEMrush – keyword research, competitive ranking research. I use this tool to vet keywords on my list, decide whether to go after them and how much content I’ll need to start ranking on that keyword.

Google Analytics – tracking and analysis of organic, referral, and paid traffic volume and onsite behavior. I mostly work for startups that depend on this free tool. It’s always been fine for my needs.

CoSchedule – help with optimizing content titles and headlines

WritingBunny – outsourced writing. This resource has affordable articles, blog posts and white papers with a quick turn around time. I’ve been pleased with their work.

WordPress – my favorite CMS. I’ve used it across many clients and use it for my own site.

HubSpot – email marketing. Seems like most of my clients in the past used Marketo. Now, most of my clients use HubSpot. I like it better than Marketo for email marketing and reporting.

Facebook Advertising – building awareness, driving demand. Facebook advertising is inexpensive and their tool is very easy to use. I like the ability to micro-target by location, age and interests.

Google AdWords – pay-per-click advertising. Great for driving traffic to the site, testing messaging and keyword strategies, but have to pay attention to ROI to ensure you’re really getting the traffic you want.

Google and Business: Best Frenemies

google_nyt_articleThose of us making a living in search marketing have long been aware of the pitfalls of doing business with Google which were outlined in a comprehensive look at the search behemoth in this morning’s NYT: Sure, It’s Big. But Is That Bad? Blatant self-interest, sudden unannounced changes in search algorithms and volatile ad rates have kept us on our toes, constantly having to keep up with whichever way the Google wind blows.

But we don’t take our business elsewhere. Most of us easily hand 80% of our paid search budget right over. When Google pulls another fast one – which it inevitably will, we adapt. Competitive behavior in a complex, networked economy is a slippery fish. Networks work because they are large. Networked economies (the Internet) benefit from scale (Google). We Internet marketers, although mostly irked by Google, accept that its very scale works to our benefit.

This morning’s Times article properly asks, “Can there really be monopolies online when the competition is only a click away?” We can move our paid search business away from Google and give it to Yahoo! or Bing at a moments notice. But we don’t.

And why not? Because, for now, Google is where the consumers are. Doing business with Google as advertiser has always been annoying and has certainly always felt unfair, but has it really been unfair? With all the pressure we now see to derive quantifyable ROI from every dollar we spend, we prove time and again that what we spend on Google is worth it no matter how annoying or unfair.

But all is transient – especially in the world of Internet marketing. When it becomes bad business to do business with Google, we’ll stop.

Newsletters: Too Old School?

newsletterNewsletters remain a tidy little marketing tool for a number of reasons. The most obvious of course is the touchpoint opportunity—a chance to hit prospects with persuasive content. And although this is a darn good reason, it’s not the only one.

Many Site clients are wary of publishing an e-newsletter because they worry that they just can’t find enough to say in order to publish something worth reading. Yes, we want our prospects and customers to engage with our content, but we also want our e-newsletter to accomplish a number of other very valuable things:

  1. Newsletters bring site traffic. Each time a newsletter recipient opens the email that contains the e-newsletter, if the email is designed right, it counts as a site visit—whether they click through to read the articles or not. Driving traffic to your site is essential, especially in the early going for a startup or small business. The ability to capture and grow traffic is an essential part of search engine optimization (SEO). Getting search engines like Google and Bing to index your site and bump it up in search rankings means showing them your site is attractive and growing. A newsletter is the perfect mechanism for that.
  2. Newsletters build keyword-driven content. Another part of SEO strategy is to ensure that you regularly update your site with keyword-driven content—the more the better. Again, the newsletter is the perfect vehicle for this. Even if you can only produce 3 articles per month, if they are peppered with keywords and sent out as a newsletter, you’re ahead of the game.
  3. Newsletters are good viral mechanisms. Emails are about the easiest way for people to share information online and are still the most preferred. According to MarketingSerpa’s 2010 Email Marketing Benchmark Report, 78% of folks still say that email is their number one way to share information online. Newsletter articles are easily primed for sharing with forwarding features built in.
  4. Newsletter registrations build opt-in marketing lists. It’s great when traffic comes to your site. But if these visitors bounce off again without ever letting you know who they are, their value is greatly diminished. Offering site visitors a free newsletter, if nothing else, is a way of capturing email addresses for future marketing. Much preferred to list purchase, the marketing database you build by capturing emails for a newsletter will be fully opt-in.

The Utility of Social Media

oprah_facebook

Facebook’s arrival as a lifestyle brand was cemented the moment Zuckerberg appeared on Oprah. Having been on Facebook for several years as an Internet marketing professional, one can’t help but notice the sudden barrage of old high school friends (stay at home moms) having suddenly found me on Facebook. A noticeable shift in the FB demographic has taken place in the last six months.

Which makes the brand now part of popular culture, properly cited by Steve Rubel as the key motivation for recent advertiser interest in Facebook. Advertisers from Palm to Sprint are plugging Facebook in TV spots, aligning themselves with the social media icon that touches 200 million everyday.

But even brands who cozy up to Facebook in TV spots don’t promote their own page in the spot. They give no compelling reason to visit them on Facebook, no call to action, in fact no instructions on how or what to do it even if the viewer wanted to connect with them on Facebook. Which infers that that the advertiser isn’t so interested in having folks visit them on Facebook. Which infers that they have yet to realize, quantify or otherwise evaluate the benefit of Facebook interactions.

Again, the social media ROI dilemma.

Social media is difficult to quantify and always will be because it’s a brand play. A positioning play. A PR play. Twitter, Facebook and media-sharing sites are places to listen (market research) make impressions, join and steer conversations, publish information, and drive brand image. Every day, social media looks more and more like broadcast media, facilitating one-to-many interactions.

Because “online marketing” including SEM, SEO, email and affiliate marketing, has grown up as a direct marketing discipline, it doesn’t know what to make of Facebook and Twitter. Neither are demonstrated lead gen or new traffic generating vehicles. Yet as emerging web-based, interactive channels, social media responsibility often falls to the “online marketer”, who ROI-driven by nature, is skeptical (ahem).

Online marketers who are responsible for the total online presence from AdWords to social media often leave the company Twitter profile to an afterthought. A wise friend said to me back in 2005 when the whole of the Internet was surging toward investments in direct, data-driven marketing, that in the total mix, “there will always be a place for brand, there will always be a place for direct and it’s a mistake to divest entirely in brand marketing online.”

Search Engine Marketing ROI: Real-World Examples

imgres-1If you haven’t put a critical eye to your search efforts, a little attention will go a long way. Unoptimized search traffic is often a marketer’s lowest hanging fruit. Here’s an example of the ROI from a recent in-market paid search campaign:

    • Keyword and benefits-driven ad copy was introduced and CTR increased 73%
    • CPC was increased to achieve better ad positioning and drive more qualified traffic
    • Keyword groups were expanded and campaigns more tightly consolidated and overall spend was reduced by 14.9%
    • Unique, keyword-driven landing pages and a tighter, more controlled registration flow were introduced and conversion rose by 54.5%
    • During the 3 month period, paid search cost per conversion decreased by 15.82%

SITE-SIDE ACQUISITION

Same thing goes for optimizing your website with a value-driven messaging framework that corresponds to your search campaign. Impressive results from a recent on-site ad campaign:

    • Dwell time increased by 40%
    • Registrations increased by 108.3%
    • Profile edits increased by 215%
    • Viral activity (invite a friend) increased by 318%