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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.

For too long there has been a perception that big marketing investments are only available to the biggest businesses with endless budgets. Content marketing breaks this trend and is in fact one of the most accessible forms of marketing out there, one that is being used more and more by start-ups and SMEs across the country.

We’re taking a look at three of the most affordable ways to get started in content marketing, proving that what you need to succeed in this game is great ideas and a clever strategy and not an endless pot of gold.

1. Careful Planning

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If we could offer one top tip to keep costs down for content marketing it would be plan everything! Obviously you’re going to do this with all areas of your business and marketing when possible, but there is a tendency to view content marketing from the creative angle and refrain from over-planning matters.

Yes, successful content marketing has a very strong creative element to it, but if you allow it to happen as and when the mood takes you or your team, you will reduce your chances of success and increase your costs.

2. Regular Content

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Part of keeping content marketing affordable is ensuring that what you do spend has as a strong return on investment (ROI). Without this, you risk spending more to try and reach goals you could have reached with a lower investment. So if you need to maximise your ROI, after planning, the next best thing you can do is to maintain a regular stream of content updates.

If you can only afford to deliver on one form of content marketing and you can only afford to update it twice a week, that’s fine, just make sure you keep doing it twice a week for at least three months instead of three times a week for the first month and then once a month from then on.

3. Analysis

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Analysis in this context simply means don’t spend money you don’t need to spend. Check what is and isn’t working for you on a regular basis and review your approach to refocus spending on revenue-generating verticals and stop wasting cash on other forms of content that just don’t work for your particular audience.

 

Content marketing doesn’t have to be expensive, but to do it successfully on a small budget requires everything to be thought through and accounted for.

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.

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.

 

What's the perfect online length?

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Before you start reading, quickly check the time …

 

One issue we are tackling with increasing regularity – both ourselves and with clients – is how to decide how long our online content should be. It’s one of the simplest questions posed in an online content marketing strategy, but it seems to be one of the trickiest to answer.

Print journalists have had centuries to research exactly what captures readers’ attentions. Headlines, style and layout have all been studied carefully to create a successful formula, while time and experience have also helped to establish text length and image sizes as standard.

Things aren’t so simple for those writing online content. The internet is just a fraction of the age of the age of print media, but the scope and potential audience of online content are at least ten times as great. We have a growing bank of research into the best lengths and layouts for articles and online news but the ever-changing nature of the beast makes it impossible to provide a definitive answer.

What we can do is look at guidelines and case studies to determine what works in certain cases. While each piece of content is (hopefully!) unique, comparing it against existing successes in similar situations can at least provide a gauge in terms of what works where.

 

Headlines

Headlines are perhaps the easiest places to start as the overarching message is actually the same as with print: keep it short and catchy. Exactly how short will depend on the space you have to work with, but research from KISSmetrics has found that people’s tendency to scan content means that readers only really absorb the first three words and the last three words of a headline. Taking this to its logical conclusion would suggest that the perfect headline length for an online article is six words if you want to grab people’s attention and convey as much information as possible.

Breaking things down further, the traditional advice when it came to writing headlines for SEO was always to keep to the limit of 70 characters. This is due to how Google displayed headlines on its SERPs, with anything longer than this likely to be cut off by the search engine’s layout.

However, the search engine has delivered a series of updates, layout alterations and font changes over the years and this advice no longer strictly applies. A fresh debate is underway to determine exactly what the perfect headline length for Google is. Efforts here are seen as particularly important due to the relevance of headlines in terms of SEO because the search engines give a lot of weight to keywords in headlines.

In reality, tight constraints in headline length can be hard to achieve, particularly if the article is tackling a very technical or sensitive topic. With this in mind, the best guidance when it comes to headlines is simply: make every word count.

 

Articles

While headlines might pop up in a huge variety of contexts online, they are generally being read with similar intentions: either by an individual looking to gauge whether or not the article is of interest or by a search engine determining the relevance of the content to a key search term.

Things aren’t quite so straightforward when it comes to looking at articles themselves due to the variation in the way people read different pieces of work. A quick news article needs to be long enough to give some insight into a situation, but short enough to be read in its entirety before the audience gets bored and clicks away. Meanwhile a blog post or in-depth article needs to have something more to offer and will generally be read by someone with a bit more time on their hands who has already decided that they want to know more about the topic the article is addressing.

According to research from Medium, the ideal in-depth blog post is one that takes about seven minutes to read. After this point, readers get distracted and might drift off before they’ve reached the crucial parts of an article. Reading time is different for everyone and the layout of an article – if it includes a lot of images for example – will clearly have an effect, but Medium’s formula equated seven minutes of reading time to around 1,600 words of content.

That said, if the content is worth the time and effort, people will stick around for longer than the seven minute cut-off, so bear in mind that this is just another guideline. Further consideration needs to be put in place for the type of audience being written for and the kind of information they are looking for.

A medical professional, for example, would be willing to spend a fair amount of time on a pharmaceutical hub carefully considering the details of a much longer article about the uses of a new drug than, say, a consumer just looking for a broader news update would. That’s not to say the pharmaceutical hub should not run short articles (i.e. news items); it’s just that there will very likely be a demand for at least some longer articles that can adequately convey the right depth of information.

This variety in not only topic, but also length and style of articles is worth thinking about when drawing up a content strategy. It’s often more interesting for readers to receive a range of different types and lengths of content, something that is also picked up by search engines who tend to reward a more natural mix of content.

 

Social Media

It is quite likely that the debate regarding the relevance of social media will rage until the end of time. But whichever side of the fence you fall on, the fact remains that social media matters now. Sharing content with targeted followers boosts audiences and offers a simple way of engaging with clientele through a means that’s more personal than most marketing techniques.

The ways in which people and companies use social media differs to such an extent that it’s very difficult to pinpoint exactly how long a post should be on each network. But research has started to suggest that there may be some guidelines marketers can follow to increase their chances of engaging audiences and customers.

With tweets limited to 140 characters, at first glance it doesn’t seem plausible that there could be an ‘ideal tweet length’ within such a tight constraint on Twitter. But the network’s own best practice guidelines reference a study conducted by Buddy Media which found that tweets shorter than 100 characters have a 17 per cent higher engagement rate. These findings were backed up by another study by Track Social which claimed that the “perfect tweet length” is around 100 characters.

Surprisingly, given the opportunity for much longer posts, the ideal Facebook post is actually shorter than the ideal Twitter update. A study from Jeff Bulllas found that posts of around 40 characters had the best engagement rate in his study, while Facebook’s best practices advise users to go for posts with 80 characters or less as these receive 66 per cent higher engagement levels.

Newcomer to the social media arena Google+ lies somewhere in the middle, and it appears that issues with this network are more to do with layout than actual length. Google recently changed the way in which its site displays posts so that users only see the first three lines of the original post before the ‘read more’ link cuts off the rest of the post, although it is possible to opt to expand it. This has meant that headlines are particularly important if you are sharing content on Google+.

With this in mind, the ideal headline for encouraging engagement and shares is one of 60 characters or less, any longer and the layout of the post will will start to look messier. However, research has shown that while engagement levels tend to trail off with longer posts on Twitter and Facebook, this isn’t necessarily the case on Google+ where longer posts can still attract a lot of readers. Headlines are really key with Google+, other than that users are free to explore using different lengths of post without risking too much impact on their levels of engagement.

 

There are some cases where the length of online content is crucial; for example if you’re automatically sending headlines into social media accounts, or you want to increase your chances of being approved and listed in Google News (FYI aim for a minimum of 300 words and you’ll need to be posting daily news articles).

But within reason, online content does not need to have the same restrictions as printed content. If it’s worth reading, watching or sharing, it will be read, watched and shared so while word limits offer a great guideline when building your content marketing strategy, there is no definitive answer.

 

Stop clock watching. Did we hit the seven minute target?

 

Look at the pace that the term ‘content marketing’ has moved into the vernacular of marketers, as measured by Google search volume. Although content marketing has been bandied about as a term for several years, its recent hike in popularity is not actually much of a surprise.

Google Trends Content Marketing

Google’s algorithm changes having been coming thick and fast over the last 12 months, and content-poor websites have been taking a real beating.

September 2012 saw the rollout of the latest Google Panda and Penguin updates, together with a sharp turning of the dial to tone down the influence of ‘direct-match’ domain names.  Google is working hard to shut out purveyors of thin content and rewarding owners of sites with useful, relevant and unique content.

You need to take action if:

  •  your website has less than 100 pages; or
  •  your website has a high number of pages populated with ‘thin content’ i.e. a paragraph or two at most of original content wrapped in a common template; or
  • there is very little content being added on a regular basis;
  • you want to improve the level of engagement you have with your audience

First – what do you want?

Before you take any action, take a moment to quantify your objectives. Have a think and discuss with colleagues what you really want to achieve with your marketing. And be specific, not just general business objectives like ‘increase sales’ or ‘increase market share’. For instance, ‘I want to increase the number of  visitors coming to our website from social media channels by 200% over the next 12 months’. Or, ‘in our next financial year, I want to reduce my pay-per-click spend by 40% and build total internet sales without increasing my online marketing budget’.

Action

Firstly, flesh out any thin pages you have with meatier content, whether that involves extending your product descriptions or providing more background information.

If you don’t have a company blog or a news section, get one or both started now and contribute to it every day.  If you are languishing in Google’s rankings for your prime keywords, you should see a steady rise begin in around a month or two. If you’re already up there, you’ll consolidate your position and begin to see second-tier key terms rise up the rankings.

Remember that some of your competitors will also be adding content and improving their web presence, so the pressure is on you to stay ahead of the pack, and boost your authority within your industry.

Here are the three broad strategies you need to follow to keep at the forefront:

Add more engaging, relevant and informative content
Add different types of content
Propagate your content

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Add more content

According to inbound marketing company Hubspot, businesses that add at least 20 articles a month to their website get five times more traffic than those businesses that write at most once a week.

businesses that blog get more visitor traffic

By including regular blog posts and industry news, you broadcast your industry knowledge and authority. It also demonstrates your thought leadership and, importantly, informs and educates your readers at the same time as giving them a platform to engage with you.

Gone are the days when we produce content specifically for the search engines. By that I mean liberally peppering every article with one or more top tier keywords (and never failing to include a keyword in the title).  Search engines have gotten smarter – they know when they are being shown a private dance and can detect keyword stuffing from several miles away.

This is not saying that we should lose focus on utilising keywords that specifically drive conversions.  These keywords, important in the buying process journey, need to be discovered and let out in a judicious manner.  In the course of writing truly relevant and informative articles, first and second tier keywords will naturally appear and help drive your site forwards in search and build up long-tail collateral.

Try to avoid creating content that is wholly company-centric. Too many marketers assume that their audience is going to be hooked on a stream of content centred around the company and its brands.  This approach simply doesn’t produce the level of interest needed to build a genuine rapport.

Of course it is easy for people to talk about their own company and its products or services. Conversely, it’s relatively difficult for marketers to come up with original content outside these areas, while still of particular interest to the audience. According to the Content Marketing Institute, around 41 percent of marketers say their leading content marketing problem is actually producing engaging content.

Your overall business objectives might be to increase enquiries, increase sales and profits. You also want to tell the brand story, build brand awareness, increase brand market share and establish thought leadership.

Provide content your audience wants

What I am saying is: focus on the customer and the information that he or she needs and is interested in. In the diagram above, anything outside the red circle is a no-go area.

There is nothing wrong in zooming in on your audience’s interests as they relate to your organisation. And without a brand in the picture, content is just a distant cry in the wilderness.  But if you restrict yourself to providing content that must, in a direct manner, relate to the brand and/or the business, you will struggle to grow your audience.

Just try moving your brand and business out of the story and see how much further the content will travel.  I guarantee you’ll want to do it more.
The interesting thing is that when you really do have something interesting to say to your audience about your brand or company, they’ll be much more attentive and responsive.

Add different types of content

So that’s a hint about where to start in terms of broadening the scope of the subject matter.  Adding more types of content is another way to broaden your reach, improve engagement ratios and boost SEO efforts.

Content types used in online marketing
The content type above is a visualisation, which in this case shows a selection of  content forms available. The positioning of content types here (based on our internal data) gives a general idea of the production ease and relative effectiveness of each.

In reality the effectiveness of a content form really depends how suited it is to your information.  Your choices are also going to shaped by resources that are available. Writing a book or even a white paper, whilst generally very effective, is going to some time and therefore is expensive.  At the other end of the spectrum you have social media updates and blog comments which are quick and cheap to create and, on their own,  have limited effectiveness.

There are some under-utilised types of content, like comics or cartoons, which can get good shares in social media,  stick around for a while and are good at picking up inbound links. Slideshare presentations are great at condensing longer Powerpoint presentations or displaying a set of slides in a visually appealing manner.

In terms of value for money, quality blogs and original news feed are a very powerful way to inform and engage with your audience, especially when used in conjunction with newsletters and social media. The ‘Freshness Update’ was coined to explain the way that Google rewards websites that are continually adding more content. A Google search guru even said that search results were like cookies that come out of the oven – ‘best when fresh’.

Infographics are in vogue of course, and are fantastic for allowing people to digest and make sense of larger amounts of data in a fun way. Different types of information are often best conveyed by using particular content forms.  So couple creativeness in broadening your topics with a bigger toolbox of content forms to really build your audience.

Propagate your content 

Once you have produced your content, is it just going to be plonked on the website, waiting to be discovered? Or will it be actively promoted and marketed?

Internal promotion
Before discussing ways to get your content linked to from third party sites, check to make sure the page upon which the content sits is well formatted, optimised for search and is featured around the site itself, including the home page.

Adding internal links from keywords or phrases in your regular content to relevant sections will help consolidate those sections and form good site architecture. Don’t be afraid of linking out to third party websites. In the old days, this would constitute ‘leaking of link juice’, but most SEO experts now agree that linking out helps rather than hinders online marketing efforts.

Make sure you have social sharing links prominently displayed above or below the content. Maybe both.  Check that there is an RSS feed set up so people can subscribe to your regular content through their browsers and in their personal news aggregators.

External promotion
Here’s what agency and brand marketers are doing to promote their content externally, according to Outbrain.

content distribution strategies

It’s likely that the better online marketers are utilising the majority of these.
No surprise to see that nearly everyone is using social media. If the content is deemed good enough by the audience, it will travel a long way.

Take a Facebook post we put up recently for a client, a sustainable forestry investment company.  It was just 50 words with an image about the world’s first ‘vertical forest’ – trees growing on every balcony of an apartment building in Milan, Italy.  But it’s interesting, relevant content for this audience, garnering many comments and hundreds of shares. There’s no mention of the brand anywhere, no calls to action.

Other times we will link to a news story or a blog post on the client’s website, where there is a chance of conversion.    Three quarters of online adults at least sometimes visit a corporate web site after learning of a news story through social media channels.  And seven out of ten will use corporate websites or online newsrooms as a source for sharing and posting information.  Social media is a very powerful platform to showcase your expertise using compelling content.

In your holistic approach, you will be co-ordinating your social media, PPC, SEO,  public relations and other online marketing activity so you’re not duplicating efforts and you are achieving a level of synergy.

Follow the bones of this content marketing über strategy, and you’ll leave your competitors straggling on the first lap.

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If you’d like to talk to me about how to achieve your online marketing objectives through cost-effective content strategies, drop me a line now! (Mention this blog post, How to build a killer content marketing strategy, and it will be directed to me).

 

 

Google Panda and Penguin UpdatesWith so many websites relying on traffic from Google, the search engine is uniquely positioned to influence where the internet goes next. But as it continues to grow, Google’s job has become increasingly difficult. It’s not just big businesses and tech geeks who are building web pages now; almost anyone with an internet connection can throw up a page relatively easily.

This has meant that not everyone is producing a quality product and an increasingly large percentage of people are just out to make a fast buck. As a result, the quality of websites has started to deteriorate, with more and more people pushing advertising and spam without offering anything of value.

Over the past 12 months, Google has shifted its focus to tackle those websites that offer little or nothing of interest to visitors, pushing them down the search listings while raising the profile of those websites that provide good quality original content.

Two algorithm changes – Panda and Penguin – have been key in this. Following a number of tweaks and adjustments after the original launch the changes are now really starting to come together to make 2012 the year we will remember for Google’s efforts to improve the quality of content on the internet.

Google Panda Update

The Panda update came first, initially launched in the US in February 2011. Various additions have been made to Panda since, with the update eventually extended to deliver a global coverage of English-speaking countries in April 2011. It has become the longest-running named Google algorithm update with adjustments being announced well into 2012.

Upon its initial launch, Google engineers Amit Singhal and Matt Cutts stated: “In the last day or so we launched a pretty big algorithmic improvement to our ranking – a change that noticeably impacts 11.8 per cent of our queries – and we wanted to let people know what’s going on.

“This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites – sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very helpful.”

Ultimately, Panda was designed to deal with site quality. It aimed to lower the rank of poor quality sites and raise that of websites that put time and effort into their content. Reports at the time showed that news websites and social networking sites saw a surge in their rankings, while pages with a lot of advertising fell.

However, things didn’t run entirely smoothly and some sites complained that they were being unfairly punished in the rankings. There were some faults on Google’s end, but the search engine refused to address individual cases and instead urged developers to work hard on their site quality in line with Google’s quality guidelines.

Amit Singhal, writing on Google’s official blog, stated that tests show the algorithm is “very accurate at detecting site quality”. He added: “If you believe your site is high-quality and has been impacted by this change, we encourage you to evaluate the different aspects of your site extensively … As sites change, our algorithmic rankings will update to reflect that.”

These are: Make pages for users, not search engines. Avoid tricks to improve SEO. Ask yourself if you’d still do this if search engines didn’t exist. Don’t participate in link schemes that involve anything dodgy. Avoid using unauthorised computer programs to submit pages as these violate Google’s Terms of Service due to the fact that they use extra computing resources – as such sites that do employ these techniques tend to be punished in the rankings. Avoid hidden text and links. Avoid cloaking and sneaky redirects. Don’t send automated queries to Google. Don’t put irrelevant keywords in your page. Don’t use duplicate content. Don’t create phishing sites or anything with malware in it. If you participate in an affiliate programme ensure that your site adds value – Google suggests using unique and relevant content to give users a reason to visit your site first. Submit your site for reconsideration after you’ve modified your website to fit in with these guidelines.

Google Penguin Update

So if Panda is all about quality, then what’s the deal with Penguin? Many of the areas the Penguin tackled crossed over with things that Panda looked at. Purposefully duplicated content, for example, was something that both algorithm updates are thought to have hit hard, pushing sites down the rankings for using software to rehash content on multiple sites or straight up stealing content form other sites.

But Penguin, launched in April 2012, went one step further and looked at a range of more specific ‘black hat’ SEO tactics. Matt Cutts explained: “In the pursuit of higher rankings or traffic, a few sites use techniques that don’t benefit users, where the intent is to look for shortcuts or loopholes that would rank pages higher than they deserve to be ranked.”

These techniques are employed on a surprisingly common basis and include everything from keyword stuffing to dodgy link schemes. Penguin targeted sites that employed these tactics and others, punishing them in the rankings for neglecting to develop content that would actually be of some interest to their users.

The latest update to Penguin came just this month (October), with engineer Mr Cutts explaining that around 0.3 per cent of English language Google queries likely to be affected by the update. As ever, the search engine remained elusive about the exact changes to the algorithm, but it is understood that web spammers are once again the main target.

Of course the vast majority of sites avoid dodgy SEO tactics like link spamming and keyword stuffing and so will see no difference in their ranking following this update. But this hasn’t stopped the same old worries developing among SEO experts and web developers.

Google has been tackling issues with poor quality content and websites almost since it began operating as a search engine. But 2012 has been the year when things have really started to come together, with Panda and Penguin affecting a significant proportion of the internet (between ten and 15 per cent of sites upon the launch of Panda and around three per cent for Penguin).

This has only been possible as Google has started to hone its skills and gain a greater understanding of the way in which websites operate. Bear in mind the company was only incorporated as a privately held company in 1998 and the business of search is still a comparatively young industry. Things will continue to change and evolve but it feels to us like Google is taking more and more control over the situation, shunting useless sites away from its top pages and rewarding sites that invest in their content.

There is nothing wrong with Google’s goal of supporting websites that provide something genuinely useful and interesting for their users. The search engine has come out in favour of good SEO tactics and praises websites that are arranged in a way that makes them easy to crawl and rank as well as sites that are stuffed with useful information for their users. But SEO can’t come at the expense of a website’s users – it needs to appease the search engines and the visitors and it appears that Google is making it increasingly clear that content is the best way of doing this.