The Nifty Guide to Local Content Strategy and Marketing

Posted by NiftyMarketing

This is my Grandma.

She helped raised me and I love her dearly. That chunky baby with the Gerber cheeks is
me. The scarlet letter “A” means nothing… I hope.

This is a rolled up newspaper. 

rolled up newspaper

When I was growing up, I was the king of mischief and had a hard time following parental guidelines. To ensure the lessons she wanted me to learn “sunk in” my grandma would give me a soft whack with a rolled up newspaper and would say,

“Mike, you like to learn the hard way.”

She was right. I have
spent my life and career learning things the hard way.

Local content has been no different. I started out my career creating duplicate local doorway pages using “find and replace” with city names. After getting whacked by the figurative newspaper a few times, I decided there had to be a better way. To save others from the struggles I experienced, I hope that the hard lessons I have learned about local content strategy and marketing help to save you fearing a rolled newspaper the same way I do.

Lesson one: Local content doesn’t just mean the written word

local content ecosystem

Content is everything around you. It all tells a story. If you don’t have a plan for how that story is being told, then you might not like how it turns out. In the local world, even your brick and mortar building is a piece of content. It speaks about your brand, your values, your appreciation of customers and employees, and can be used to attract organic visitors if it is positioned well and provides a good user experience. If you just try to make the front of a building look good, but don’t back up the inside inch by inch with the same quality, people will literally say, “Hey man, this place sucks… let’s bounce.”

I had this experience proved to me recently while conducting an interview at
Nifty for our law division. Our office is a beautifully designed brick, mustache, animal on the wall, leg lamp in the center of the room, piece of work you would expect for a creative company.

nifty offices idaho

Anywho, for our little town of Burley, Idaho it is a unique space, and helps to set apart our business in our community. But, the conference room has a fluorescent ballast light system that can buzz so loudly that you literally can’t carry on a proper conversation at times, and in the recent interviews I literally had to conduct them in the dark because it was so bad.

I’m cheap and slow to spend money, so I haven’t got it fixed yet. The problem is I have two more interviews this week and I am so embarrassed by the experience in that room, I am thinking of holding them offsite to ensure that we don’t product a bad content experience. What I need to do is just fix the light but I will end up spending weeks going back and forth with the landlord on whose responsibility it is.

Meanwhile, the content experience suffers. Like I said, I like to learn the hard way.

Start thinking about everything in the frame of content and you will find that you make better decisions and less costly mistakes.

Lesson two: Scalable does not mean fast and easy growth

In every sales conversation I have had about local content, the question of scalability comes up. Usually, people want two things:

  1. Extremely Fast Production 
  2. Extremely Low Cost

While these two things would be great for every project, I have come to find that there are rare cases where quality can be achieved if you are optimizing for fast production and low cost. A better way to look at scale is as follows:

The rate of growth in revenue/traffic is greater than the cost of continued content creation.

A good local content strategy at scale will create a model that looks like this:

scaling content graph

Lesson three: You need a continuous local content strategy

This is where the difference between local content marketing and content strategy kicks in. Creating a single piece of content that does well is fairly easy to achieve. Building a true scalable machine that continually puts out great local content and consistently tells your story is not. This is a graph I created outlining the process behind creating and maintaining a local content strategy:

local content strategy

This process is not a one-time thing. It is not a box to be checked off. It is a structure that should become the foundation of your marketing program and will need to be revisited, re-tweaked, and replicated over and over again.

1. Identify your local audience

Most of you reading this will already have a service or product and hopefully local customers. Do you have personas developed for attracting and retaining more of them? Here are some helpful tools available to give you an idea of how many people fit your personas in any given market.

Facebook Insights

Pretend for a minute that you live in the unique market of Utah and have a custom wedding dress line. You focus on selling modest wedding dresses. It is a definite niche product, but one that shows the idea of personas very well.

You have interviewed your customer base and found a few interests that your customer base share. Taking that information and putting it into Facebook insights will give you a plethora of data to help you build out your understanding of a local persona.

facebook insights data

We are able to see from the interests of our customers there are roughly 6k-7k current engaged woman in Utah who have similar interests to our customer base.

The location tab gives us a break down of the specific cities and, understandably, Salt Lake City has the highest percentage with Provo (home of BYU) in second place. You can also see pages this group would like, activity levels on Facebook, and household income with spending habits. If you wanted to find more potential locations for future growth you can open up the search to a region or country.

localized facebook insights data

From this data it’s apparent that Arizona would be a great expansion opportunity after Utah.

Neilson Prizm

Neilson offers a free and extremely useful tool for local persona research called Zip Code Lookup that allows you to identify pre-determined personas in a given market.

Here is a look at my hometown and the personas they have developed are dead on.

Neilson Prizm data

Each persona can be expanded to learn more about the traits, income level, and areas across the country with other high concentrations of the same persona group.

You can also use the segment explorer to get a better idea of pre-determined persona lists and can work backwards to determine the locations with the highest density of a given persona.

Google Keyword Planner Tool

The keyword tool is fantastic for local research. Using our same Facebook Insight data above we can match keyword search volume against the audience size to determine how active our persona is in product research and purchasing. In the case of engaged woman looking for dresses, it is a very active group with a potential of 20-30% actively searching online for a dress.

google keyword planner tool

2. Create goals and rules

I think the most important idea for creating the goals and rules around your local content is the following from the must read book Content Strategy for the Web.

You also need to ensure that everyone who will be working on things even remotely related to content has access to style and brand guides and, ultimately, understands the core purpose for what, why, and how everything is happening.

3. Audit and analyze your current local content

The point of this step is to determine how the current content you have stacks up against the goals and rules you established, and determine the value of current pages on your site. With tools like Siteliner (for finding duplicate content) and ScreamingFrog (identifying page titles, word count, error codes and many other things) you can grab a lot of information very fast. Beyond that, there are a few tools that deserve a more in-depth look.

BuzzSumo

With BuzzSumo you can see social data and incoming links behind important pages on your site. This can you a good idea which locations or areas are getting more promotion than others and identify what some of the causes could be.

Buzzsumo also can give you access to competitors’ information where you might find some new ideas. In the following example you can see that one of Airbnb.com’s most shared pages was a motiongraphic of its impact on Berlin.

Buzzsumo

urlProfiler

This is another great tool for scraping urls for large sites that can return about every type of measurement you could want. For sites with 1000s of pages, this tool could save hours of data gathering and can spit out a lovely formatted CSV document that will allow you to sort by things like word count, page authority, link numbers, social shares, or about anything else you could imagine.

url profiler

4. Develop local content marketing tactics

This is how most of you look when marketing tactics are brought up.

monkey

Let me remind you of something with a picture. 

rolled up newspaper

Do not start with tactics. Do the other things first. It will ensure your marketing tactics fall in line with a much bigger organizational movement and process. With the warning out of the way, here are a few tactics that could work for you.

Local landing page content

Our initial concept of local landing pages has stood the test of time. If you are scared to even think about local pages with the upcoming doorway page update then please read this analysis and don’t be too afraid. Here are local landing pages that are done right.

Marriott local content

Marriot’s Burley local page is great. They didn’t think about just ensuring they had 500 unique words. They have custom local imagery of the exterior/interior, detailed information about the area’s activities, and even their own review platform that showcases both positive and negative reviews with responses from local management.

If you can’t build your own platform handling reviews like that, might I recommend looking at Get Five Stars as a platform that could help you integrate reviews as part of your continuous content strategy.

Airbnb Neighborhood Guides

I not so secretly have a big crush on Airbnb’s approach to local. These neighborhood guides started it. They only have roughly 21 guides thus far and handle one at a time with Seoul being the most recent addition. The idea is simple, they looked at extremely hot markets for them and built out guides not just for the city, but down to a specific neighborhood.

air bnb neighborhood guides

Here is a look at Hell’s Kitchen in New York by imagery. They hire a local photographer to shoot the area, then they take some of their current popular listing data and reviews and integrate them into the page. This idea would have never flown if they only cared about creating content that could be fast and easy for every market they serve.

Reverse infographicing

Every decently sized city has had a plethora of infographics made about them. People spent the time curating information and coming up with the concept, but a majority just made the image and didn’t think about the crawlability or page title from an SEO standpoint.

Here is an example of an image search for Portland infographics.

image search results portland infographics

Take an infographic and repurpose it into crawlable content with a new twist or timely additions. Usually infographics share their data sources in the footer so you can easily find similar, new, or more information and create some seriously compelling data based content. You can even link to or share the infographic as part of it if you would like.

Become an Upworthy of local content

No one I know does this better than Movoto. Read the link for their own spin on how they did it and then look at these examples and share numbers from their local content.

60k shares in Boise by appealing to that hometown knowledge.

movoto boise content

65k shares in Salt Lake following the same formula.

movoto salt lake city content

It seems to work with video as well.

movoto video results

Think like a local directory

Directories understand where content should be housed. Not every local piece should be on the blog. Look at where Trip Advisor’s famous “Things to Do” page is listed. Right on the main city page.

trip advisor things to do in salt lake city

Or look at how many timely, fresh, quality pieces of content Yelp is showcasing from their main city page.

yelp main city page

The key point to understand is that local content isn’t just about being unique on a landing page. It is about BEING local and useful.

Ideas of things that are local:

  • Sports teams
  • Local celebrities or heroes 
  • Groups and events
  • Local pride points
  • Local pain points

Ideas of things that are useful:

  • Directions
  • Favorite local sports
  • Granular details only “locals” know

The other point to realize is that in looking at our definition of scale you don’t need to take shortcuts that un-localize the experience for users. Figure and test a location at a time until you have a winning formula and then move forward at a speed that ensures a quality local experience.

5. Create a content calendar

I am not going to get into telling you exactly how or what your content calendar needs to include. That will largely be based on the size and organization of your team and every situation might call for a unique approach. What I will do is explain how we do things at Nifty.

  1. We follow the steps above.
  2. We schedule the big projects and timelines first. These could be months out or weeks out. 
  3. We determine the weekly deliverables, checkpoints, and publish times.
  4. We put all of the information as tasks assigned to individuals or teams in Asana.

asana content calendar

The information then can be viewed by individual, team, groups of team, due dates, or any other way you would wish to sort. Repeatable tasks can be scheduled and we can run our entire operation visible to as many people as need access to the information through desktop or mobile devices. That is what works for us.

6. Launch and promote content

My personal favorite way to promote local content (other than the obvious ideas of sharing with your current followers or outreaching to local influencers) is to use Facebook ads to target the specific local personas you are trying to reach. Here is an example:

I just wrapped up playing Harold Hill in our communities production of The Music Man. When you live in a small town like Burley, Idaho you get the opportunity to play a lead role without having too much talent or a glee-based upbringing. You also get the opportunity to do all of the advertising, set design, and costuming yourself and sometime even get to pay for it.

For my advertising responsibilities, I decided to write a few blog posts and drive traffic to them. As any good Harold Hill would do, I used fear tactics.

music man blog post

I then created Facebook ads that had the following stats: Costs of $.06 per click, 12.7% click through rate, and naturally organic sharing that led to thousands of visits in a small Idaho farming community where people still think a phone book is the only way to find local businesses.

facebook ads setup

Then we did it again.

There was a protestor in Burley for over a year that parked a red pickup with signs saying things like, “I wud not trust Da Mayor” or “Don’t Bank wid Zions”. Basically, you weren’t working hard enough if you name didn’t get on the truck during the year.

Everyone knew that ol’ red pickup as it was parked on the corner of Main and Overland, which is one of the few stoplights in town. Then one day it was gone. We came up with the idea to bring the red truck back, put signs on it that said, “I wud Not Trust Pool Tables” and “Resist Sins n’ Corruption” and other things that were part of The Music Man and wrote another blog complete with pictures.

facebook ads red truck

Then I created another Facebook Ad.

facebook ads set up

A little under $200 in ad spend resulted in thousands more visits to the site which promoted the play and sold tickets to a generation that might not have been very familiar with the show otherwise.

All of it was local targeting and there was no other way would could have driven that much traffic in a community like Burley without paying Facebook and trying to create click bait ads in hope the promotion led to an organic sharing.

7. Measure and report

This is another very personal step where everyone will have different needs. At Nifty we put together very custom weekly or monthly reports that cover all of the plan, execution, and relevant stats such as traffic to specific content or location, share data, revenue or lead data if available, analysis of what worked and what didn’t, and the plan for the following period.

There is no exact data that needs to be shared. Everyone will want something slightly different, which is why we moved away from automated reporting years ago (when we moved away from auto link building… hehe) and built our report around our clients even if it took added time.

I always said that the product of a SEO or content shop is the report. That is what people buy because it is likely that is all they will see or understand.

8. In conclusion, you must refine and repeat the process

local content strategy - refine and repeat

From my point of view, this is by far the most important step and sums everything up nicely. This process model isn’t perfect. There will be things that are missed, things that need tweaked, and ways that you will be able to improve on your local content strategy and marketing all the time. The idea of the cycle is that it is never done. It never sleeps. It never quits. It never surrenders. You just keep perfecting the process until you reach the point that few locally-focused companies ever achieve… where your local content reaches and grows your target audience every time you click the publish button.

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Be Intentional about Your Content & SEO Goals or Face Certain Failure – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

We’re seeing more and more companies investing in content marketing, and that’s a great thing. Many of them, however, are putting less thought than they should into the specific goals behind the content they produce. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand covers examples of goals for targeting different kinds of people, from those who merely stumbled upon your site to those who are strongly considering becoming customers.

For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard!

Video transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we’re going to chat about being intentional about the content investments that you make. Now this is particularly important because otherwise it can lead to doom.

I got to organize the Foundry CEO Summit last week in Boulder, Colorado. I’m not sure when you are watching this. It might be several weeks ago now. But in any case, I’m talking with a bunch of CEOs and we have a number of discussion topics. One of the discussion topics, which was my personal favorite, one of the ones I was moderating was the top of funnel customer acquisition.

So I’m talking with a lot of these CEOs, B2B and B2C CEOs, about their content marketing efforts. Virtually everyone is investing in content marketing or thinking about it, which is awesome because it is very powerful. But many of them are investing in it somewhat unintentionally, or they haven’t talked with their CMOs and their marketing teams about precisely what that content is.

So we pulled up a couple of blogs from some of the participants. I’m kind of looking through like, “I’m not sure that there’s a strategic initiative behind all of the content that’s being produced.” That can be hugely helpful, and that’s true both for the content side of it and for the SEO side of it.

Many of the folks who are watching Whiteboard Friday undoubtedly are really deep into the tactics and the SEO side. So this video is for your managers, for your bosses, for you to help them understand how to choose content investments and what to expect from different kinds of investments.

Let me show you what I mean. Different kinds of content exist to target people at different sections of their experience with your site: at the consideration phase, where they’re close to buying, this is really for people who are thinking about buying your product; at the discovery phase for people who are just learning about your product or company; and at the viral or super broad content phase, where you’re not even necessarily trying to attract an audience that might buy from you, you’re doing other kinds of things.

So I’m going to try and walk through each of these. I’m actually going to start with the one that’s closest to the conversion process or the conversion point in that process.

So let’s imagine that I’m going to be the marketer at GeekDesk. GeekDesk sells these great sit-stand desks. I have one at home. I have one here at Moz. I love them to death because I stand up and work. I have sciatica in my left leg that I’ve had for many years, and I’ve been trying to work on that. One of the things I did is switch to a sit-stand desk. I actually almost never put it in sit mode anymore. I’m standing all the time. But in any case, GeekDesk makes great ones, ones that I really like.

So if I’m working at GeekDesk, my consideration phase content might be things like the models page, the models of all the different GeekDesks that I can buy. It might be a page on the advantages of the GeekDesk preset heights. GeekDesk has these little settings. I can push one, two, three, four, and it’ll go to different heights. I have one at home where I can push it to two, and it will go to the height for Geraldine so she can work at my desk. Then I press one, and it goes to my height. Then I press three, I haven’t pre-programmed three or four yet. But in any case, maybe if Elijah comes over, I’ll set one for you.

It might be “GeekDesk warranty and return policy,” or “sit-stand desks from GeekDesk.” These are kind of product-centric things. My content goals here are product awareness and conversion. I’m trying to get people to know about the products that I offer and to convert them to buyers.

This is really about information for those potential buyers. So my audience, naturally, is going to be customers, potential customers, and maybe also some media that’s already planning to write about me, which is why I want to have things like great photography and probably some testimonial quotes and all that kind of stuff.

The SEO targets for these types of pages are going to be my branded keywords — certainly things like “GeekDesk” and “GeekDesk desks” and whatever the models that I’ve got are — and then non-branded keywords that are directly, exactly tied to the products that my customers are going to perform when they search. These are things like sit-stand desks or adjustable height desks. That’s what this stuff is targeting.

This is very classic, very old-school kind of SEO and almost not even in the realm really of content marketing. These are just kind of product-focused pages. You should have plenty of these on your site, but they don’t always have overlap with these other things, and this is where I think the challenge comes into play.

Discovery phase content is really different. This is content like benefits of standing desks. That’s a little broader than GeekDesk. That’s kind of weird. Why would I write about that instead of benefits of GeekDesk? Well, I’m trying to attract a bigger audience. 99% of the content that you’ll ever see me present or write about is not why you should use Moz tools. That’s intentional. I don’t like promoting our stuff all that much. In fact, I’m kind of allergic to it, which has its own challenges.

In any case, this is targeting an audience that I am trying to reach who will learn from me. So I might write things like why sitting at a desk might significantly harm your health or companies that have moved to standing desks. I’d have a list of them, and I have some testimonials from companies that have moved to standing desks. They don’t even have to be on my product. I’m just trying to sell more of the idea and get people engaged with things that might potentially tie to my business. How to be healthy at work, which is even broader.

So these content goals are a little different. I’m trying to create awareness of the company. I just want people to know that GeekDesk exists. So if they come and they consume this content, even if they never become buyers, at least they will know and have heard of us. That’s important as well.

Remember television commercial advertisers pay millions and millions of dollars just to get people to know that they exist. That’s creating those brand impressions, and after more and more brand impressions, especially over a given time frame, you are more likely to know that brand, more likely to trust them, conversion rates go up, all those kinds of things.

I’m also trying to create awareness of the issues. I sometimes don’t even care if you remember that that great piece of content about how to be healthy at work came from GeekDesk. All I care is that you remember that standing at work is probably healthier for you than sitting. That’s what I hope to spread. That’s the virality that I hope to create there. I want to help people so that they trust, remember, and know me in the future. These are the goals around discovery phase content.

That audience can be potential customers, but there’s probably a much broader audience with demographic or psychographic overlap with my customers. That can be a group that’s tremendously larger, and some small percentage of them might someday be customers or customer targets. This is probably also people like media, influencers, and potential amplifiers. This may be a secondary piece, but certainly I hope to reach some of those.

The SEO targets are going to be the informational searches that these types of folks will perform and broad keywords around my products. This is not my personal products, but any of the types of products that I offer. This also includes broad keywords around my customers’ interests. That might be “health at work,” that might be “health at home,” that might be broadly dealing with issues like the leg issue that I’ve got, like sciatica stuff. It can be much broader than just what my product helps solve.

Then there’s a third one. These two I think get conflated more than anything else. This is more the viral, super broad content. This is stuff like, “Scientific studies show that work will kill you. Here’s how.” Wow. That sounds a little scary, but it also sounds like something that my aunt would post on Facebook.

“Work setups at Facebook versus Google versus Microsoft.” I would probably take a look at that article. I want to see what the different photographs are and how they differ, especially if they are the same across all of them. That would surprise me. But I want to know why they have uniqueness there.

“The start-up world’s geekiest desk setup.” That’s going to be visual content that’s going to be sailing across the Web. I definitely want to see that.

“An interactive work setup pricing calculator.” That is super useful, very broad. When you think about the relationship of this to who’s going to be in my potential customer set, that relationship is pretty small. Let’s imagine that this is the Venn diagram of that with my actual customer base. It’s a really tiny little overlap right there. It’s a heart-shaped Venn diagram. I don’t know why that is. It’s because I love you.

The content goals around this are that I want to grow that broad awareness, just like I did with my informational content. I want to attract links. So few folks, especially outside of SEOs and content marketers, really understand this. What happens here is I’m going to attract links with this broad or more viral focused content, and those links will actually help all of this content rank better. This is the rising tide of domain authority that lifts all of the ships, all of the pages on the domain and their potential ranking ability. That’s why you see folks investing in this regularly to boost up the ranking potential of these.

That being said, as we’ve talked about in a previous Whiteboard Friday, Google is doing a lot more domain association and keyword level domain association. So if you do the “problems with abusing alcohol” and that happens to go viral on your site, that probably won’t actually help you rank for any of this stuff because it is completely outside the topic model of what all of these things are about. You want to be at least somewhat tangentially related in a semantic way.

Finally, I want to reach an audience outside of my targets for potential serendipity. What do I mean by that? I’m talking about I want to reach someone who has no interest in sitting and standing desks, but might be an investor for me or a supplier for me or a business development partner. They might be someone who happens to tell someone who happens to tell another someone, that long line of serendipity that can happen through connections. That’s what this viral content is about.

So the audience is really not just specific influencers or customers, but anyone who might influence potential customers. It’s a big, broad group. It’s not just these people in here. It’s these people who influence them and those people who influence them. It’s a big, broad group.

Then I’m really looking for a link likely audience with this kind of content. I want to find people who can amplify, people who can socially share, people who can link directly through a blog, through press and media, through resources pages, that kind of stuff.

So my SEO targets might be really broad keywords that have the potential to reach those amplifiers. Sometimes — I know this is weird for me to say — it is okay to have none at all, no keyword target at all. I can imagine a lot of viral content that doesn’t necessarily overlap with a specific keyword search but that has the potential to earn a lot of links and reach influencers. Thus, you kind of go, “Well, let’s turn off the SEO on this one and just at least make it nicely indexable and make the links point to all the right places back throughout here so that I’m bumping up their potential visibility.”

This fits into the question of: What type of content strategy am I doing? Why am I investing in this particular piece? Before you create a piece of content or pitch a piece of content to your manager, your CMO, your CEO, you should make sure you know which one it is. It is so important to do that, because otherwise they’ll judge this content by this ROI and this content by these expectations. That’s just not going to work. They’re going to look at their viral content and go, “I don’t see any conversions coming from this. That was a waste.”

That’s not what it was about. You have to create the right expectations for each kind of content in which you are going to be investing.

All right everyone, I hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday. We will see you again next week. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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But I Have to Buy Links, Ads, and Exposure, Because My Customers Won’t Amplify My Content – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

We hear frequently from marketers who are frustrated that their audiences aren’t sharing their content, making them think the only way to promote their brands is to pay for exposure. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand shows you a new way to think about your marketing that may be just the solution.

For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard!

Video Transcription

Howdy Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. So last week I was in Minneapolis for the MnSearch Summit, and it was a very impressive event. But I had a number of conversations with folks there. I talked about some content marketing and SEO stuff in one of my keynotes, and what I heard was something that I’ve heard many, many times over the years. That was nearly this exact phrase: “But I have to have to buy links or ads or exposure because my customers won’t amplify or share my content.”

You’ve probably heard this too if you work in marketing, or maybe you’re in this world. Maybe you watch Whiteboard Friday sometimes, and you think to yourself, yeah, that’s great when you talk about how your customers are going to go out and share this content you created, but my customers don’t do that. So how am I supposed to get all the social shares that lead to links, all the mentions from blogs, all the press? I’m shouting into a graveyard. Nobody’s listening.

Okay, I hear you. This is you, and you’re trying to amplify your own content, and you’re saying, “Hey, we have this great stuff. I made this great content for you guys. I’ve produced whatever this great product.”
Your customers, your current or potential customers are essentially doing nothing. They’re shutting it down. They’re keeping quiet.

This can happen for a number of reasons. The two most common that I hear are, number one, they’re in a demographic group that doesn’t use social media or the Web to share things, and that can often be older, more traditional folks in B2B types of companies. It can sometimes also be because they don’t want their peers or their friends finding out that they use you.

So in one of the examples where I had this conversation in Minneapolis, the person I was talking to was working at a B2B supplier, and he said, “All of the companies that you said that use us,” I think in this case it was print shops, none of them wanted to tell anyone else in the print world that they used this supplier because the prices were so good and the product was so good. They wanted to keep it as a competitive advantage for their own shop, which makes total sense. It happens a lot in B2B types of supplying worlds.

If there’s no one to amplify from your customer base, you run into this problem over and over. People say to me, “Well then, how am I going to solve this issue of no one amplifying the work that I’m putting out?” My answer, time and time again — and that’s why I figured we should codify it into a Whiteboard Friday — is that these people might not be influenced and might not be influencing their peers or their cohorts or potential new customers for you. But they are influenced by something. That something is how they discovered you and everything else that they use, and that something often falls under press and classic media, which is a completely different channel than your customer set.

It might be that they’re finding content on blogs, but they’re just not sharing it. Or they’re finding stuff in trade publications and magazines, at events and conferences, on social accounts that they follow but don’t amplify or re-share. They might be in listen only mode, which many users of social networks like Twitter and Google+ and LinkedIn are. They might listen to industry experts and get their viewpoint from those few influencers in the industry. Or, and this is the most pernicious one because it happens a lot in the SEO world, they get all their recommendations by using search engines. Since they use search engines, and in order to rank in search engines you have to be amplified, people say,

“It’s a Catch-22, man. I’m screwed forever. There’s nothing I can do. SEO is just not going to work for me. Or white hat SEO is not for me. I’m going to have to buy my links if I want to rank or buy ads because I can’t rank in the organic section.”

Here’s the trick. If it’s the case that search engines are how people are influenced, then what you have to do is think a little differently. You have to think of these people, these other ones — press, classic media, blogs, trade publications, events and conferences, social accounts, industry experts, whatever it is. The list may go on and on. You probably know what those few are.

Those are what you need to use to nudge the search engines into ranking you. By influencing these folks, you also influence the search engines and ranking, because when they talk about you and link to you and mention your brand and cite your work, you rank higher in search engines, and that reaches your customers.

This is the trick. The challenge here is what influences these people is not the same thing that you’re broadcasting and amplifying to your customers. So you need to think of yourself as a whole different kind of marketer, marketing an entirely different product. The product you are marketing to these people is most of the time not your product. It is a kind of content, an expertise, an informational value, a piece of research, work that these people care about, that will make them look good, that they know their audience will care about, that’s going to be interesting and useful and unique to them. This becomes your new customer set, and your new product becomes whatever they will care about and amplify and cite from you.

Now you have closed the gap between how to figure out how to reach these people by indirectly targeting another group. This is a challenging process. I’m not going to lie. It is hard. But you can do this. When you do, when you figure out the kind of content marketing and production and amplification, whether that’s through social or through blogs or through conferences or whatever it might be, when you figure out how that system works, you can get a flywheel going that gets you more and more exposure to these folks and higher and higher rankings in the search engines. As you build up your domain authority, as you start to produce content directly for your customers that will influence them, it ranks in the engines.

Now it’s convoluted. It’s challenging, but it’s possible. It is possible. You don’t have to buy links or only ads or only buy exposure. You can reach people organically through this system.

All right, everyone, hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday. We’ll see you again next week. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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SEOs Know Things about UX: Here’s How to Prove it

Posted by Kristina Kledzik

As a human being currently using the internet, you have opinions about online user experience. The problem is, everyone’s experience is going to be different based on their expectations. So although you, as a Moz blog reader and probably an internet connoisseur, may have some very good ideas about making your company’s or client’s site easier to use for the majority of visitors, there’s a good chance that your boss or client will disagree with you. 

If you’re like me and aren’t a user experience expert, it’s going to be hard to argue with them on gut instinct alone. Rather than debate in circles, spend the time to validate your argument:

  1. Prove there is a problem. This is a good idea even if you and your boss (or client) wholeheartedly agree that the site is less than optimal. Get feedback from visitors who aren’t working on the site and see if their feedback lines up with your assumptions. 
  2. Propose a solution. Based on the feedback, propose a solution. It’s best to do this visually with a page mockup. 
  3. Test that solution. See how visitors respond better to your new design than they did to the old design.

By going through these steps, you can build a strong case for implementing your recommendations.

How to prove there is a problem

The first step is to prove that there really is a user experience issue. If you’re lucky and have time and money, the best way to get user experience feedback is to reach out to your customers and/or people in your target market and work with them in person. But most of us aren’t so lucky. If you’re confined to an SEO’s budget like I usually am, you can use an online tool:

My favorite:

Qualaroo

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Qualaroo is a simple yet effective way to collect feedback. You just put a small piece of JavaScript code on your site, allowing Qualaroo to load a question in the lower right hand corner of a page. You can: 

  • Place the question on any page or group of pages
  • Write your own questions or use their helpful library of examples
  • Set a time for when the box shows up (e.g., on page load, after 15 seconds, or when the visitor moves their cursor up to the URL bar on their browser, indicating they might leave)

Example use: One of my clients runs seminars. They can host them in a number of places, but if the seminar is hosted in their primary building, they don’t explicitly say where the seminar is held. I theorized that this is causing confusion for visitors and that adding the address to the seminar page would make visitors’ decisions easier.

I didn’t want to ask a leading question, though, so I just added a question to every seminar page, “Is there any other information you need to make a decision today?” Once I had collected a few hundred responses, I exported the feedback to an Excel file and started sorting ideas. I was right: a good proportion of people were interested in the location. The exercise also taught me that a lot of visitors wanted a sample schedule of the program. 

Pros: Easy to use, fast way to get feedback, very flexible program

Cons: You only hear from people who are on your site

Price: $79/month (less if you pay for 1 – 2 years at a time)

Cheap feedback without access to the code of your site:

Feedback Army/Mechanical Turk

Feedback Army

While I recommend Qualaroo, I realize that many of you may not be able to convince your boss or client to install JavaScript and potentially distract visitors with your UX questions. If that’s the case, you can use 
Mechanical Turk, or Feedback Army, which is a guy using Mechanical Turk for you, because mTurk’s interface is pretty clunky.

Mechanical Turk allows you to submit questions to millions of online workers from across the world (about 30% are American), so you can use the same questions as you would with Qualaroo. You have to lead them to the right page to review as well, but that should be easy enough.

Pros: An inexpensive way to find and learn from testers

Cons: Mechanical Turk doesn’t pay their testers a whole lot, so you’ll get very quick, off the cuff responses. Plus, they won’t be from your target audience or customer base.

Price: $40 per 10 responses

More expensive feedback without access to the code of your site:

UserTesting.com

usertesting.com

If you’d like a more robust user experience test, try out
UserTesting.com. Testers are paid $35/test, so they’re going to give you a much more in-depth, thoughtful review than Mechanical Turk. With a higher price tag comes a lot more information, though: you give testers a task and ask them for feedback along the way. This may be excessive if your idea was about tweaking one piece of one page, but it’s great for information architecture/site navigation issues.

Pros: A still fairly inexpensive way to find and learn from testers. You can select your target market by age, gender, income, location, and experience online.

Cons: Reviewers are being paid well to test your site, here, so they want to do a thorough job, and I’ve heard they can be nitpicky.

Price: $49/tester (you’ll need a few, at least)

Bonus: Running tests like these without access to the code of the site means that you can run tests on your competitors, too! Use either Feedback Army or UserTesting.com to learn what people like about your competitors’ sites and what frustrates them. It’ll tell you what you’re up against, and pieces that testers praise may be worth imitating on your own site.

Quantitative feedback:

Google Analytics

Google Analytics

Google Analytics won’t give you the opinions of visitors, but sometimes actions speak louder than words. If your theory is that:

  • Calls to action aren’t really…calling people to action
  • Visitors don’t know how to navigate to the page they’re looking for
  • Readers don’t scroll all the way to the bottom of the page

Then you can look at:

  • What proportion of visitors clicked on that call to action (if there are multiple CTAs to the same location on a page, you may have to set up Event Tracking to be sure which CTA was clicked)
  • How visitors move through your site with the Visitor Flow report, and how many visitors clicked around before using site search with the Site Search report
  • How far visitors scrolled down a page, by setting up Events at certain break points
Pros: Free! And, probably already installed on your system. 

Cons: You get a lot of data, but what it means can be somewhat up to interpretation. This might be a good springboard to convince a client that you need to do further testing, but it can’t prove much on its own.

Price: Free!

How to propose a solution

Proving that there is a problem gets your boss or client to the table. The next step is proposing a solution and proposing it well.

The most effective way I’ve found to pitch a design change is to actually mock up your solution. If you have access to design tools, definitely use those. I don’t, though, so I either modify the HTML with Chrome’s Inspect Element feature or use a combination of the Windows Snipping Tool and Paint.

Snipping Tool & MS Paint

I know, no one gets design cred from using MS Paint. But I’m a child of the ’90s, and Paint was my first introduction to design software, so it’s easy for me to use. The point here isn’t to use Paint necessarily, but to use whichever program you have access to and is easy to use. Don’t stop yourself from creating designs just because you don’t own a copy of Dreamweaver or Photoshop.

When I want to mock up a dramatically different version of a page, I use the Snipping Tool to take a picture of the webpage as it currently is, then modify the parts that I want to. The selector makes it easy to move elements around. If Paint doesn’t have an option I need, I just use other Office products:

  • For text overlays and adding a variety of shapes, I’ll often use Word, since it has a lot of text box options
  • For color changes and setting a transparent color, I use PowerPoint, because as far as I know it’s the only Office product that has that option
  • For text changes, I’ll modify the HTML in Chrome (see section below), then copy that over to my Paint design

Is this hack-y? Yes. Is it impressive? No. But it gets the job done. All you need at the end is a design good enough to communicate your idea. Once you get sign-off, actual designers will make sure that the details turn out right.

Rewriting the HTML

As I mentioned above, this works best if what you’re doing is modifying the existing text or images. You can either download the HTML of a page, modify it, and share that, or you can use Chrome’s Inspect Element to quickly modify text and take a picture of the result. It took me 15 seconds to change the text on Moz’ homepage:

rewriting html in chrome

Just right click wherever you want to edit on your page while in Chrome and click “Inspect Element.” If you want to make color changes or image changes, it’ll be a little more complicated, but still doable. 

You can do this in Firefox as well with Firefox’s add-on,
Firebug.

Once you’ve got a mock up, save it and send it on to your boss/client with your description of the changes you’ve made, the stats from your tests, and why your solution is solving those problems. (Just don’t mention how you made that mock up.)

How to test your solution

Even if your proposed solution is a big hit and everyone wants to implement it right away, it’s better to test to make sure that it’s actually going to work before making a permanent change to your site. I’ve had a lot of clients tell me that it’s too hard to test changes, but it’s actually fairly easy with the right tools.

If you or a dev can build you variation pages:

Google Experiments

google experiments

Image from Marketing Engine Land, which includes more details on Google Experiments.

If you’ve got a developer who can build out your suggested change, 
Google Experiments is a free, reliable, and easy to use tool to track results. It’s integrated into Google Analytics, so it uses the conversion metrics you already have set up (this may mean you’ll have to set up a new goal to cover your test’s desired outcome). 

Pros: Free and completely integrated with Google Analytics

Cons: You have to create your own variation pages.

Price: Free!

If dev resources are limited:

Optimizely

optimizely

Optimizely does need a bit of dev work to install a JavaScript code onto your site, but once it’s there, you can edit the HTML for tests with their web interface, without talking to a developer. You can edit with their editor or use actual HTML, meaning the tool doesn’t require HTML skills, but still allows those able to write HTML the extra precision they can get from making changes to the code directly. 

As a consultant, I
love working with clients who have Optimizely installed, because I can take a test from start to finish. I prove the problem, propose a solution, set up the test, and present results, all without my point of contact having to take time out of his or her busy schedule to make any changes. And, once you have numeric results, it’s easy to prove the value of your suggested change and get it into the dev queue. 

Pros: Easy to use, and gives you a lot of flexibility 

Cons: You have to start with the core page and then modify elements with JavaScript, so you can’t make dramatic changes 

Price: Based on your monthly traffic, prices start at $19/month

Make a solid argument for change

Assuming that each step supported your initial ideas, you now have more than enough data to strongly support making the change you suggested. When you make your recommendation, take the time to tell the story of what you went through—getting user feedback, coming up with a solution, and proving the solution works. Clients and bosses feel a lot more comfortable with your conclusions if they see how thoroughly you researched the issue.

Has anyone else gone through a similar process? Any tools you prefer, or tips you’d like to add? Share in the comments below!

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Shorter SEO video

Shorter SEO is a marketing agency that is ready to increase your sales and customer base.

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Twelve Top Marketing Tips

Before you begin marketing your business – there are Twelve Top Marketing Tips you need to consider which will help you maximise your marketing results.

1. Start with a marketing plan
SME businesses often make the mistake of rushing to implement marketing strategies and tactics without putting a plan into place and often results in a waste valuable time and money communicating to customers who don’t have a need for your product/service.

Your marketing plan should begin with an analysis of your market, business environment, competitors and customers. Knowing the market you compete in and the factors that impact your business will ensure you develop and implement tactics that are relevant, maximise your marketing spend and achieve profitable results.

2. Focus on the customer
Effective marketing strategies begin and end with the customer. It is important to find out who your most profitable customers are and how you can keep them loyal, as well as how you to attract new customers with similar profiles.

Marketing to customers who have a need and desire for your product/service will ensure you optimise your marketing spend.

3. Keep your existing customer base
The cost associated with winning new customers are four times greater than the costs of retaining customers. Set objectives and develop marketing strategies and tactics that focus on the retention and expansion of your most valuable customers.

4. Know your market
Your market is the industry in which you compete. You need to analyse your market and gain an understanding of your business’s full market potential identifying new opportunities. Ask yourself:

  • Is my market growing or declining and why?
  • Which segment(s) of my market is most advantageous for my business to compete in?
  •  Which factors are changing my market (eg. Seasonality, trends regulatory controls etc) and how will they affect the future of your business?

5. Know the competition
Investigate your competition and find out their strengths and weaknesses and how they compare to yours. By analysing your competition you will determine what makes you different from your competitors and what you do better. Your key strengths and point of difference then need to be incorporated into your USP.

6. Perform a SWOT analysis on your business

Assesses your strengths “what your company can do” weaknesses “what your company cannot do” in addition to opportunities “potential favourable conditions for an organisation” and threats “potential unfavourable conditions for your company.

7. Conduct a marketing audit

This is a fundamental part of the marketing planning process. You need to do this at the beginning of the planning process, during the implementation of the plan and at the end of each review period. The marketing audit considers both internal and external influences on marketing planning, as well as a review of the plan itself.

8. Identify your USP Unique Selling Point
You can gain a competitive edge in your market by knowing and communicating your USP to your target market. Ask yourself:

  •  What makes you stand out from your competitors?
  •  What makes you better than your competitors?
  •  Is your point of difference relevant to your customers’ needs and wants?

9. Measure everything
Measure the effectiveness of everything you do. You need to understand what your ROI is for each marketing program in your arsenal. Expand the ones that work, tinker with the less successful and cut the ones that absolutely fail.

10. Set realistic objectives
Be realistic about what you need to accomplish. Your marketing objectives should be relevant to your current marketing and business issues and contribute to the achievement of your financial goals and sales forecast.

11. Learn from your experiences
Continually speak to your customers, research your competitors and analyse your business and market to ensure you are taking advantage of all opportunities available.

12. New trends in marketing
Constantly be on the lookout for new marketing Trends. As an example Guerrilla Marketing is the newest and perhaps most talked about marketing development of recent times. It consists of over 200 marketing strategies aimed at increasing profits. These strategies suit the SME market more than the large corporate and focus on measuring results.

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