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The digital age that we live in demands flexibility and adaptability. For those working in content marketing, this means that they need to be so much more than simply a great writer. A team can produce the best content known to man, but if it doesn’t feed back into the sales channels of the website it’s published on its value is immediately limited.

Calls to Action (or CTAs) are the tool that link great writing back to a great product; the article interests and engages the reader and the CTA shows them how to take their interest further with some real action.

CTAs are actually pretty straightforward little phrases or snippets of content but sometimes, when you’re in the midst of creativity, it helps to have a some extra ideas to come up with the right sales hook.

We’ve rounded up five of the most effective calls to action below and explored ways in which they can help with the sales process to give you and your team a starting point for inspiration.

1. Try it free for a week

This doesn’t have to be a ‘week’, it could be a fortnight, 30 days or three months. The time on offer will depend on your business plan but the point is to encourage people to start thinking seriously about your service and giving it a go. Getting hold of their contact details is also a clear driver here.

2. Learn more

The way in which you enable your visitor to learn more could be with a full ebook, a price list or simply another page with a bit more data on it. But whatever the means, this CTA is about providing a break in the visitors’ journey at which point you can request their details.

3. Start your free trial subscription now

This one’s simple really, the word ‘free’ still entices people and once they’ve started using your product you’ve moved them one step closer to conversion.

4. Get started now

If you’ve understood your audience well you will know at which point in their path through your website they will be ready to give your service a go. At this point you simply need to make it as easy as possible for them to convert. Adding the word ‘now’ in connects with their sense of ‘yup, I’m ready’ and urges them to keep moving forward.

5. Contact us / Talk to us

There’s a trend among digital marketers to avoid using basic business terms like ‘contact us’ and instead shift towards more human terms like ‘talk to us’. You’ll need to assess your own audience to decide which one is for your business but don’t be obliged to follow trend without testing different language with your visitors. This CTA is simply about offering a simple route to enquiry. Your sales team might also be able to pick up contact details while they’re advising.

And on that note … do contact us if you’d like to receive more information about our content marketing services!

The question of what marketing methods to invest in is one that troubles all businesses. Of course there can be no universal answer for the most effective way to allocate a marketing budget – best scenarios will vary by industry. But recent research has shown that consumers do tend to show higher levels of engagement and positivity towards certain forms of marketing.

Inbound vs Outbound

Image: Walter Lim
Image: Walter Lim

The meaning of inbound marketing is somewhat open to interpretation and at risk of manipulation depending on who is trying to explain it! But on a basic level, inbound simply means that you provide something of value to your audience to pull them in. Outbound marketing, on the contrary, involves going out and shouting about your services to potential customers, it’s more ‘push your services’ than ‘pull in your audience’.

Since inbound marketing first started to hit the mainstream, marketers have been attempting to determine and demonstrate its ROI. Recent survey results from Fractl and Moz have certainly helped in that regard.

Consumer Engagement Levels

The study, which looked at the opinions of more than 1,000 people, the majority (73.2 per cent) of whom were in the 18 to 34 age bracket, found that certain forms of marketing tend to resonate more effectively with audiences, and more modern forms of inbound marketing were perceived as particularly effective.

The research found that content marketing, appearing in search results and direct mail were the marketing tactics that were most effective for attracting new business.

Furthermore, when asked about the marketing approaches that were most likely to have a positive influence on their buying decisions, the consumers who took part in the survey cited online articles, search and customer reviews as among the most effective marketing channels. On this point, however, there was some crossover between old and new as traditional advertising and direct mail were also listed.

Changing Platforms

Image: Moz and Fractl
Image: Moz and Fractl

The study results come at an interesting time for online marketers in particular. Many outbound marketing routes are being closed down or their scope reduced significantly as ad blockers grow in popularity.

Research from Adobe found that some 198 million people are blocking adverts online at the moment and with the news that Apple’s iOS9 will enable ad-blocking extensions in its Safari browser, this number will no doubt continue to climb.

Fractl and Moz themselves found that around 58 per cent of people they surveyed are already using ad-blocking software. Clearly consumers are not responding well to interruptive adverts during their online browsing experience.

The Solution

At the moment, content marketing looks like one of the best marketing channels to invest in to navigate the issue of adblocking. If you can’t force your message on to your audience’s screens, you need to entice them to choose to view your message. More and more businesses are seeing the value in this and creating innovative content-focused campaigns to help share and amplify their message.

Some, like Dreams’ Sleep Matters Club, are taking the long-term view and building whole information-focused websites publishing articles they know will be of use and interest to their customers. In cases like these, the most successful campaigns tend to be those that don’t even try to monetise their content until they’ve built up their audience’s trust over months or even years.

On the other hand, there are thousands of businesses already providing news feeds and blogs on their own websites with snippets of useful information for their target audience to find. Not only do these help readers to find websites through search and social media channels, but, when written well, they build trust between company and consumer, and deliver that all important positive first point of contact that helps smooth the journey from enquiry to sale.

Whether you’re publishing news articles, blogs or features on your website, headlines have the power to make all the difference to your content marketing.

Research from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism this year confirmed that headlines are the biggest driver of engagement in online articles. The study, which looked at US online readers, found that 51 per cent of people claim a compelling headline is what makes them click on an article.

The quality of an article’s source accounted for just 37 per cent of clicks, so clearly headlines are a good area to be focusing on to improve engagement with your audience.

With this in mind, it’s great to see so many ideas doing the rounds about how to write better headlines.

Here’s a fantastic infographic from the team over at CoSchedule which looks at ‘How To Write A Headline That Will Get The Best Results’.

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To summarise, here are three quick actionable ideas to write better headlines:

  1. Don’t sit on the fence. Very positive or very negative headlines get more attention.
  2. Focus on the beginning and end of your headline. This is where the greatest impact lies.
  3. Tweak your headline using Google search suggestions.

Two of the online marketing world’s biggest operators have implemented a pretty interesting test to determine whether quality of quantity matters most when publishing content.

There are two clear schools of thought on the matter. Firstly, the assumption that publishing more content will increase the potential number of visitors as you simply have more opportunities to connect with your audience. Secondly, the quality school of thought notes that if this content is churned out with little or not thought then too many of those opportunities will be wasted when there is nothing engaging, original or well-written to keep them interested.

Moz and HubSpot both implemented tests to see what really happened when they changed their frequency of blog posts.

Moz

Starting with SEO kings Moz and their team found that dropping their publishing volume to half its normal level resulted in an average drop of 5.6 per cent in unique pageviews base on their daily average.

They did see some impact on average traffic, although the changes were not as noticeable as expected. You can see the impact in the analysis below:

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Interestingly, however, when the team doubled their publishing volume, there was essentially no impact on the number of unique pageviews.

Moz concluded that their results showed content marketing might take a while to get up to speed but “once it’s spinning, its massive inertia means that it isn’t easily affected by relatively small changes”.

The site also monitored engagement and, as they expected, found that when more posts were published the engagement levels dropped per post, indicating that people only had so much time to spend and would spread that more thinly if given more content to engage with.

As for quality, Moz hypothesised that posting fewer times a week will give them more time and that they will be “better able to focus on the quality of the posts” published, while publishing more frequently will result in the quality of each post suffering.

What they found was that they largely kept quality consistent (although they acknowledged this is hard to measure) and instead used the extra time when publishing at half their normal rate to invest in other projects, leaving them more productive and positive as a team than when they were rushing to deliver more content.

HubSpot

HubSpot had a clearer editorial focus behind their mission. They had previously reviewed their editorial setup to establish their ‘optimum’ publishing frequency and wanted to use the experiment to do so again in light of the developments within their company and the market as a whole.

The team focused on their Marketing Blog in particular, which usually publishes between three and give blog posts on a week day and one post on each weekend day, resulting in between 20 and 25 posts a week.

But, the majority (92 per cent) of the company’s leads in a given month come from posts published prior to that month – an interesting side note to bear in mind for company’s consider their own content strategy. So the experiment focused on the effects of new posts.

To summarise, HubSpot found that posting blogs at a low volume but with high comprehensiveness (that is to say high quality articles that required particularly large amounts of research to create) resulted in nearly 32 per cent less traffic than their benchmark. When posted at high volume but with low comprehensiveness, there was a five per cent increase in traffic. This is visualised in the graphic below, where LVHC = low volume high comprehensiveness and HVLC = high volume low comprehensiveness.

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Much like Moz, the Hubspot team concluded that there is “only so much content our readers can consume”.

Both studies are well worth a closer read for anyone looking to ascertain their perfect publishing frequency and focus of their editorial strategy.

Check out the HubSpot study here.

View the Moz study here.

Writing a blog is broadly acknowledged as something that businesses should be doing, but in reality it can be a waste of time if not carefully maintained and set-up.

With this in mind, we’ve broken down the 8 simple things that you need to be doing to run an effective blog as part of your content marketing campaign.

1. Subheadings

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It sounds simple but subheadings matter in blogs. Not only do they offer a helpful way of getting some extra points for your keywords, but they help the reader. It’s unlikely your readers are the kind of people who are willing to read an essay online, but they will be happy to jump into a well structured article if you break things up with subheadings.

2. Bullet points and paragraphs

Bullet points and paragraphs serve a similar purpose to subheadings: they help break things up for your readership. Attention spans are much shorter when people read online than if they were to sit down with a newspaper, magazine or book, so keep this in mind and cater to them by breaking up your content into easily digestible chunks with clever paragraphs and bullet points.

3. Images

Images are an important visual aid in telling your story, employ them carefully when blogging and you will boost engagement from your audience and encourage them to share your message. Get creative if possible, don’t stick to stock photos. If you have the time and ability to take a quick shot of whatever it is you’re blogging about on your smartphone then why not do it?

4. Use language that suits your audience

If you’re writing a blog that is read by people in the professional sectors, it’s probably not a good idea to use too much slang. Equally, if you’re trying to engage people with a sports fashion brand targeted at under-25s you will most likely want to avoid too much stuffy serious language.

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This should already be part of your broader marketing approach, but make sure you don’t forget it when it comes to blogging and content marketing: know who you’re aiming to engage and talk to them in their language.

5. Internal Linking

Why are you blogging? Sure, one reason should be to get your message out to a wider audience and connect with readers. But is another not to increase conversions and awareness of your services or products? If so, put some intelligent linking in your posts to direct readers back to conversion pages or pages with more information about whatever it may be you’re writing about.

6. External Linking

External linking is more about good practice; it’s good manners to point back to any sources that proved useful in creating your blog.

But it also provides a useful link to your audience if they would like to research what you’re discussing and, of course, it ensures your own credibility by being upfront about where you have found your information.

7. Sharing buttons

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If you want to spread your message online then you better make sure it’s easy for your audience to help! The majority of people read quickly online, if you’ve managed to write a blog that has connected with one of your readers, you don’t have long to get them to spread your message so make sure it’s easy for them to share your blog post with their followers of Twitter or Facebook, or to email the article to a contact.

AddThis offers a useful set-up to feature a bar of buttons connecting pretty much all the major social networks.

8. Speak from the heart

This final point is connected to the above, essentially, we’re saying nobody likes to have the wool pulled over their eyes so don’t write a blog and try and come across as something you’re not. You will be found out and it will be embarrassing for you and your brand.

Instead, be honest, be yourself! People recognise and appreciate sincerity.

If we could predict the future of content marketing we’d all be laughing right? Unfortunately it’s not as easy as X+Y = success. But we can take a closer look at what the industry itself thinks is going to happen.

Handcrafted Content

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Let’s start with the argument for ‘handcrafted content’ from Chief Content Officer Magazine, a publication produced by the excellent Content Marketing Institute. An article in the June 2015 edition explored the debate between “machines and handcrafted content”.

Jay Acunzo, VP of platform and content at NextView Ventures, argued the case for handcrafted content, although he conceded that the future of content creation is most likely to be a “powerful blend of technology and technique”.

He said that organisations will start to acknowledge the fact that cutting corners doesn’t work and can in fact risk damaging their reputation. Instead of looking for a quick fix, he suggested that more and more people will look to “hire, train and promote individuals capable of being creatively brilliant and prolific”.

The core of Mr Acunzo’s message is that great writers and content producers matter as much as they ever did, despite the rapid evolution of the supporting technology.

Automated Content Marketing

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Arguing the case for more technology in content marketing, is Ann Rockley, chief executive of The Rockley Group, Inc and one of the top five ranked most influential content strategists in 2010.

Ms Rockley’s points focus on automation. “The future of content creation lies with intelligent content,” she told the Chief Content Officer Magazine.

She explained that clever content strategies can enable small companies to have big footprints in the content marketing world thanks to the scalability that they deliver.

The key piece of advice she gave is to structure and tag everything that is produced, once this is complete “the main work is done; everything else can be automated” through systems that can extract questions and answers automatically or store videos for future access or post samples of content out to social media networks automatically.

The debate between the value of automation vs human input comes with the release of the State of Enterprise Content Marketing Report. One strong point we can take from the report is the youth of the industry and the fact that businesses are still to become fully aware of the extent to which content plays a part across their entire business.

Content marketing, particularly when used in an online context, has evolved from traditional media and traditional marketing to become far more than the sum of its parts, but in looking to the future of content marketing, it is flexibility that comes up again and again. Yes, we need the core skills from excellent content producers and solid innovative technology, but what we do with those skills and technology will define our industry, as will the speed with which we respond.

You can view the full SlideShare of the State of Enterprise Content Marketing Report below, but we wanted to highlight the two snippets below to underline the continued emphasis on evolution and adaptation:

“Successful businesses will no longer have a singular view of content as fuel to support marketing campaigns. Instead, they will evolve and begin looking at changing marketing into a function that increasingly supports the fluid use of content to create and support better customer experiences.”

“The successful plan of tomorrow will be powered by an ability to constantly reconfigure efforts and manage a portfolio of content-driven experiences. When a particular experience is no longer advantageous to business, the team will not lean on a “that’s-the-way-it’s-always-been-done” mentality, but will healthily disengage and dismantle the outmoded experience.”

As online news writers, headlines are one of the most important parts of our job. If our team don’t write engaging interesting headlines, there is a very real risk that the content they go on to write under that headline will never be read.

Inevitably this dilemma has lead to an ongoing quest within the content marketing world to create ‘The Perfect Headline’ – that one magic formula that will ensure the article is read and shared for all eternity. But is there really such a thing as a single Perfect Headline? We think not and here’s why.

The Perfect Headline is entirely dependent on the audience viewing it, and the audience depends on the publication. Online news appears everywhere from the multinational news organisations’ websites to individual businesses and blogs. Readers do not interact in the same way with all of these publications and publishers cannot expect them to respond in the same way to headlines they read on each.

The Financial Times and Buzzfeed couldn’t be much further apart in audience demographics. Let’s look at their individual approaches when it comes to creating their own perfect headlines …

 

The Financial Times

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The Financial Times has to be one of the most fact-focused publications in the world. Given the sensitive nature of the financial topics it covers, the FT has to stick to straight forward headlines that get the message across and leave no room for misinterpretation.

Headlines on the front page average out at about nine words and they all put the focus on getting the most amount of information into the lowest word count.

Compare this with Buzzfeed, and it’s obvious that the FT puts a much greater emphasis on clarity and delivery of information.

Buzzfeed

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Buzzfeed on the other hand, has something of a ‘style over substance’ approach to headlines. The website began life as the ultimate click-bait content site and their headlines still reflect this. Interestingly, however, the site has managed to develop from its origins of a site with a great formula for delivery but very little original content, to a site that manages to generate some really interesting points of view that are in fact amplified by its unique approach to content delivery.

Headlines are an essential part of this. Compared to the FT, Buzzfeed headlines are unsurprisingly longer, averaging out at 12 words each. They are nearly all list-based, and they tend to include an adjective or two, inviting the user to feel something by clicking the headline and reading the article.This use of adjectives means that the space for facts is reduced, but that’s fine as Buzzfeed’s audience isn’t necessarily looking for facts, they’re after entertainment that suits their mood. It’s emotive marketing at its most concise.

 

We picked the Financial Times and Buzzfeed for this quick blog because they couldn’t be more different in terms of how they connect with their readership. The lesson is just as applicable for industry news and onsite blogs: To write the Perfect Headline, get to know your audience and tailor your headlines to suit your readers’ approach to online news.

For traditional marketers, social media has always been a difficult avenue to quantify, but recent research is likely to keep the naysayers quiet, at least for the foreseeable future.

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Data compiled by KiteDesk found that 64 per cent of salespeople who exceeded their quotas in 2014 said that they had closed a deal as a “direct result of their social media efforts in the past year”. Furthermore, around 75 per cent of those who beat their quota for the year by 10 per cent or more said that they were ‘highly effective’ or ‘better than most’ at leveraging social media to sell.

When it comes to which networks were most fruitful in increasing sales, the answer depends to some extent on the product sold but the research certainly showed some surprising statistics in this area:

“For the first time ever, Twitter has dethroned LinkedIn as the most important social selling channel for B2B sales professionals.”

LinkedIn has always been the traditional outlet for business and professional connections, making it an obvious choice for anyone seeking to leverage their connections. But perhaps the ease with which people can connect to new networks and contacts on Twitter is proving more useful in modern sales environments.

Geoff Stuhf, speciality care, account manager from GE Healthcare, commented on the research:

“The healthcare industry is undertaking a major changeint he way that most facilities purchase products and in doing so, it has gotten even more challenging to reach anyone outside of the supply chain department.

“This, along with the onset of social media and social selling, has become the perfect storm for getting in touch with key decision makers, on their time, outside of the four walls of a hospital.”

It’s official. The votes are in. The results have been counted and varied, and we can reveal that the single most effective SEO tactic is content marketing.

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The focus in content marketing has shifted away from SEO these days and towards natural audience engagement. Sure, we know that what we do has a positive impact on SEO, but the impact is so natural it has ceased to be the primary driver in content investment.

But the latest SEO Survey Summary report from Ascend2 found that when asked to sit down and think about it, the majority of marketers and sales professionals still believe that relevant content creation is the most effective SEO tactic at their disposal.

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Ascend2 asked nearly 300 people for their best strategies and views in the research paper and 72 per cent confirmed that relevant content creation is their top approach in SEO. Second to this was keyword / phrase research (48 per cent), followed by frequent website updating (34 per cent) and relevant link building (33 per cent).

In comparison to the same study in 2014, content marketing has shot up in marketers’ estimations. Last year just 57 per cent voted it most effective. It seems that the increasing levels of sophistication from the search engines combined with a greater level of appreciation and understanding of the online medium from audiences has helped boost the value of great content.

Does quality really matter when it comes to creating online content? Quantity and frequency are discussed so much that you’d be forgiven for thinking that quality could take a backseat in the matter. Just to be clear, this is absolutely not the case, at least not anymore.

Online news used to be about the basic provision of information, but the industry has evolved. More than ever online media consumers are demanding their content to be of equal or better quality to offline content, a trend confirmed at the latest Online Media Awards held by The Drum.

The BBC took a grand total of five awards at the event, while Vice and Al Jazeera also proved to be big winners taking three each. The supervising producer for Vice News Europe, Yonni Usiskin commented on the changes in the industry: “I think what we’ve seen over the last few years is this shift whereby people don’t expect to be watching crappy content online, so our standards for online video really are as high as the TV shows we’re making with HBO in the US and the feature films Vice has started making.”

The changes aren’t just impacting video creation. Interest in online news increased almost three-fold between 2007 and 2014. However, as competition for readers is increasing, so too is the quality. But those who are truly blowing the competition out of the water are being smart about their quality development, focusing on ensuring they provide content that engages their particular demographic, rather than hoping to appease everyone.

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Allison Rockey, engagement editor at Vox.com, explained at the News Impact Summit in London: “At the end of the day, good content is what shares.”

She added that the focus on online news absolutely needs to tie in to that particular outlet’s audience; there’s no point writing news about puppies and kittens just because they’re trending on Twitter if your audience are looking for hard news about the political developments in the Middle East.

When online news started to take off there was real concern that quality journalism and writing would cease to exist as the demand for more blew all other considerations away. But the reality is proving to be the opposite – with so few barriers to entry in the online news and content environment, anyone hoping to make their mark needs to step up their quality. And this is exactly what we’re seeing with increasingly well thought out pieces, new research, new ideas and intelligent systems of delivery to ensure that people have the opportunity to view and engage with content that suits their interests.