From Editorial Calendars to SEO: Setting Yourself Up to Create Fabulous Content

Posted by Isla_McKetta

Quick note: This article is meant to apply to teams of all sizes, from the sole proprietor who spends all night writing their copy (because they’re doing business during the day) to the copy team who occupies an entire floor and produces thousands of pieces of content per week. So if you run into a section that you feel requires more resources than you can devote just now, that’s okay. Bookmark it and revisit when you can, or scale the step down to a more appropriate size for your team. We believe all the information here is important, but that does not mean you have to do everything right now.

If you thought ideation was fun, get ready for content creation. Sure, we’ve all written some things before, but the creation phase of content marketing is where you get to watch that beloved idea start to take shape.

Before you start creating, though, you want to get (at least a little) organized, and an editorial calendar is the perfect first step.

Editorial calendars

Creativity and organization are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they can feed each other. A solid schedule gives you and your writers the time and space to be wild and creative. If you’re just starting out, this document may be sparse, but it’s no less important. Starting early with your editorial calendar also saves you from creating content willy-nilly and then finding out months later that no one ever finished that pesky (but crucial) “About” page.

There’s no wrong way to set up your editorial calendar, as long as it’s meeting your needs. Remember that an editorial calendar is a living document, and it will need to change as a hot topic comes up or an author drops out.

There are a lot of different types of documents that pass for editorial calendars. You get to pick the one that’s right for your team. The simplest version is a straight-up calendar with post titles written out on each day. You could even use a wall calendar and a Sharpie.

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Title
The Five Colors of Oscar Fashion 12 Fabrics We’re Watching for Fall Is Charmeuse the New Corduroy? Hot Right Now: Matching Your Handbag to Your Hatpin Tea-length and Other Fab Vocab You Need to Know
Author Ellie James Marta Laila Alex

Teams who are balancing content for different brands at agencies or other more complex content environments will want to add categories, author information, content type, social promo, and more to their calendars.

Truly complex editorial calendars are more like hybrid content creation/editorial calendars, where each of the steps to create and publish the content are indicated and someone has planned for how long all of that takes. These can be very helpful if the content you’re responsible for crosses a lot of teams and can take a long time to complete. It doesn’t matter if you’re using Excel or a Google Doc, as long as the people who need the calendar can easily access it. Gantt charts can be excellent for this. Here’s a favorite template for creating a Gantt chart in Google Docs (and they only get more sophisticated).

Complex calendars can encompass everything from ideation through writing, legal review, and publishing. You might even add content localization if your empire spans more than one continent to make sure you have the currency, date formatting, and even slang right.

Content governance

Governance outlines who is taking responsibility for your content. Who evaluates your content performance? What about freshness? Who decides to update (or kill) an older post? Who designs and optimizes workflows for your team or chooses and manages your CMS?

All these individual concerns fall into two overarching components to governance: daily maintenance and overall strategy. In the long run it helps if one person has oversight of the whole process, but the smaller steps can easily be split among many team members. Read this to take your governance to the next level.

Finding authors

The scale of your writing enterprise doesn’t have to be limited to the number of authors you have on your team. It’s also important to consider the possibility of working with freelancers and guest authors. Here’s a look at the pros and cons of outsourced versus in-house talent.

In-house authors

Guest authors and freelancers

Responsible to

You

Themselves

Paid by

You (as part of their salary)

You (on a per-piece basis)

Subject matter expertise

Broad but shallow

Deep but narrow

Capacity for extra work

As you wish

Show me the Benjamins

Turnaround time

On a dime

Varies

Communication investment

Less

More

Devoted audience

Smaller

Potentially huge

From that table, it might look like in-house authors have a lot more advantages. That’s somewhat true, but do not underestimate the value of occasionally working with a true industry expert who has name recognition and a huge following. Whichever route you take (and there are plenty of hybrid options), it’s always okay to ask that the writers you are working with be professional about communication, payment, and deadlines. In some industries, guest writers will write for links. Consider yourself lucky if that’s true. Remember, though, that the final paycheck can be great leverage for getting a writer to do exactly what you need them to (such as making their deadlines).

Tools to help with content creation

So those are some things you need to have in place before you create content. Now’s the fun part: getting started. One of the beautiful things about the Internet is that new and exciting tools crop up every day to help make our jobs easier and more efficient. Here are a few of our favorites.

Calendars

You can always use Excel or a Google Doc to set up your editorial calendar, but we really like Trello for the ability to gather a lot of information in one card and then drag and drop it into place. Once there are actual dates attached to your content, you might be happier with something like a Google Calendar.

Ideation and research

If you need a quick fix for ideation, turn your keywords into wacky ideas with Portent’s Title Maker. You probably won’t want to write to the exact title you’re given (although “True Facts about Justin Bieber’s Love of Pickles” does sound pretty fascinating…), but it’s a good way to get loose and look at your topic from a new angle.

Once you’ve got that idea solidified, find out what your audience thinks about it by gathering information with Survey Monkey or your favorite survey tool. Or, use Storify to listen to what people are saying about your topic across a wide variety of platforms. You can also use Storify to save those references and turn them into a piece of content or an illustration for one. Don’t forget that a simple social ask can also do wonders.

Format

Content doesn’t have to be all about the words. Screencasts, Google+ Hangouts, and presentations are all interesting ways to approach content. Remember that not everyone’s a reader. Some of your audience will be more interested in visual or interactive content. Make something for everyone.

Illustration

Don’t forget to make your content pretty. It’s not that hard to find free stock images online (just make sure you aren’t violating someone’s copyright). We like Morgue File, Free Images, and Flickr’s Creative Commons. If you aren’t into stock images and don’t have access to in-house graphic design, it’s still relatively easy to add images to your content. Pull a screenshot with Skitch or dress up an existing image with Pixlr. You can also use something like Canva to create custom graphics.

Don’t stop with static graphics, though. There are so many tools out there to help you create gifs, quizzes and polls, maps, and even interactive timelines. Dream it, then search for it. Chances are whatever you’re thinking of is doable.

Quality, not quantity

Mediocre content will hurt your cause

Less is more. That’s not an excuse to pare your blog down to one post per month (check out our publishing cadence experiment), but it is an important reminder that if you’re writing “How to Properly Install a Toilet Seat” two days after publishing “Toilet Seat Installation for Dummies,” you might want to rethink your strategy.

The thing is, and I’m going to use another cliché here to drive home the point, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Potential customers are roving the Internet right now looking for exactly what you’re selling. And if what they find is an only somewhat informative article stuffed with keywords and awful spelling and grammar mistakes… well, you don’t want that. Oh, and search engines think it’s spammy too…

A word about copyright

We’re not copyright lawyers, so we can’t give you the ins and outs on all the technicalities. What we can tell you (and you already know this) is that it’s not okay to steal someone else’s work. You wouldn’t want them to do it to you. This includes images. So whenever you can, make your own images or find images that you can either purchase the rights to (stock imagery) or license under Creative Commons.

It’s usually okay to quote short portions of text, as long as you attribute the original source (and a link is nice). In general, titles and ideas can’t be copyrighted (though they might be trademarked or patented). When in doubt, asking for permission is smart.

That said, part of the fun of the Internet is the remixing culture which includes using things like memes and gifs. Just know that if you go that route, there is a certain amount of risk involved.

Editing

Your content needs to go through at least one editing cycle by someone other than the original author. There are two types of editing, developmental (which looks at the underlying structure of a piece that happens earlier in the writing cycle) and copy editing (which makes sure all the words are there and spelled right in the final draft).

If you have a very small team or are in a rush (and are working with writers that have some skill), you can often skip the developmental editing phase. But know that an investment in that close read of an early draft is often beneficial to the piece and to the writer’s overall growth.

Many content teams peer-edit work, which can be great. Other organizations prefer to run their work by a dedicated editor. There’s no wrong answer, as long as the work gets edited.

Ensuring proper basic SEO

The good news is that search engines are doing their best to get closer and closer to understanding and processing natural language. So good writing (including the natural use of synonyms rather than repeating those keywords over and over and…) will take you a long way towards SEO mastery.

For that reason (and because it’s easy to get trapped in keyword thinking and veer into keyword stuffing), it’s often nice to think of your SEO check as a further edit of the post rather than something you should think about as you’re writing.

But there are still a few things you can do to help cover those SEO bets. Once you have that draft, do a pass for SEO to make sure you’ve covered the following:

  • Use your keyword in your title
  • Use your keyword (or long-tail keyword phrase) in an H2
  • Make sure the keyword appears at least once (though not more than four times, especially if it’s a phrase) in the body of the post
  • Use image alt text (including the keyword when appropriate)

Finding time to write when you don’t have any

Writing (assuming you’re the one doing the writing) can require a lot of energy—especially if you want to do it well. The best way to find time to write is to break each project down into little tasks. For example, writing a blog post actually breaks down into these steps (though not always in this order):

  • Research
  • Outline
  • Fill in outline
  • Rewrite and finish post
  • Write headline
  • SEO check
  • Final edit
  • Select hero image (optional)

So if you only have random chunks of time, set aside 15-30 minutes one day (when your research is complete) to write a really great outline. Then find an hour the next to fill that outline in. After an additional hour the following day, (unless you’re dealing with a research-heavy post) you should have a solid draft by the end of day three.

The magic of working this way is that you engage your brain and then give it time to work in the background while you accomplish other tasks. Hemingway used to stop mid-sentence at the end of his writing days for the same reason.

Once you have that draft nailed, the rest of the steps are relatively easy (even the headline, which often takes longer to write than any other sentence, is easier after you’ve immersed yourself in the post over a few days).

Working with design/development

Every designer and developer is a little different, so we can’t give you any blanket cure-alls for inter-departmental workarounds (aka “smashing silos”). But here are some suggestions to help you convey your vision while capitalizing on the expertise of your coworkers to make your content truly excellent.

Ask for feedback

From the initial brainstorm to general questions about how to work together, asking your team members what they think and prefer can go a long way. Communicate all the details you have (especially the unspoken expectations) and then listen.

If your designer tells you up front that your color scheme is years out of date, you’re saving time. And if your developer tells you that the interactive version of that timeline will require four times the resources, you have the info you need to fight for more budget (or reassess the project).

Check in

Things change in the design and development process. If you have interim check-ins already set up with everyone who’s working on the project, you’ll avoid the potential for nasty surprises at the end. Like finding out that no one has experience working with that hot new coding language you just read about and they’re trying to do a workaround that isn’t working.

Proofread

Your job isn’t done when you hand over the copy to your designer or developer. Not only might they need help rewriting some of your text so that it fits in certain areas, they will also need you to proofread the final version. Accidents happen in the copy-and-paste process and there’s nothing sadder than a really beautiful (and expensive) piece of content that wraps up with a typo:

Know when to fight for an idea

Conflict isn’t fun, but sometimes it’s necessary. The more people involved in your content, the more watered down the original idea can get and the more roadblocks and conflicting ideas you’ll run into. Some of that is very useful. But sometimes you’ll get pulled off track. Always remember who owns the final product (this may not be you) and be ready to stand up for the idea if it’s starting to get off track.

We’re confident this list will set you on the right path to creating some really awesome content, but is there more you’d like to know? Ask us your questions in the comments.

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Should I Rebrand and Redirect My Site? Should I Consolidate Multiple Sites/Brands? – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by randfish

Making changes to your brand is a huge step, and while it’s sometimes the best path forward, it isn’t one to be taken lightly. In today’s Whiteboard Friday, Rand offers some guidance to marketers who are wondering whether a rebrand/redirect is right for them, and also those who are considering consolidating multiple sites under a single brand.

For reference, here’s a still of this week’s whiteboard. Click on it to open a high resolution image in a new tab!

To rebrand, or not to rebrand, that is the question

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Today we’re going to chat a little bit about whether you should rebrand and consider redirecting your existing website or websites and whether you should potentially consolidate multiple websites and brands that you may be running.

So we’ve talked before about redirection moves best practices. We’ve also talked about the splitting of link equity and domain authority and those kinds of things. But one of the questions that people have is, “Gosh, you know I have a website today and given the moves that Google has been making, that the social media world has been making, that content marketing has been making, I’m wondering whether I should potentially rebrand my site.” Lots of people bought domains back in the day that were exact match domains or partial match domains or that they thought reflected a move of the web toward or away from less brand-centric stuff and toward more keyword matching, topic matching, intent matching kinds of things.

Maybe you’re reconsidering those moves and you want to know, “Hey, should I be thinking about making a change now?” That’s what I’m here to answer. So this question to rebrand or not to re, it is tough because you know that when you do that rebrand, you will almost certainly take a traffic hit, and SEO is one of the biggest places where people typically take that traffic hit.

Moz previously was at SEOmoz.org and moved to moz.com. We saw a dip in our traffic over about 3 to 4 months before it fully recovered, and I would say that dip was between 15% and 25% of our search traffic, depending on week to week. I’ll link to a list of metrics that I put on my personal blog, Moz.com/rand, so that you can check those out if you’d like to see them. But it was a short recovery time for us.

One of the questions that people always have is, “Well wait, did you lose rankings for SEO since SEO used to be in your domain name?” The answer is no. In fact, six months after the move, we were ranking higher for SEO related terms and phrases.

Scenario A: Rebranding or redirecting scifitoysandgames.com

So let’s imagine that today you are running SciFiToysAndGames.com, which is right on the borderline. In my opinion, that’s right on the borderline of barely tolerable. Like it could be brandable, but it’s not great. I don’t love the “sci-fi” in here, partially because of how the Syfy channel, the entity that broadcasts stuff on television has chosen to delineate their spelling, sci-fi can be misinterpreted as to how it’s spelled. I don’t love having to have “and” in a domain name. This is long. All sorts of stuff.

Let’s say you also own StarToys.com, but you haven’t used it. Previously StarToys.com has been redirecting to SciFiToysAndGames.com, and you’re thinking, “Well, man, is it the right time to make this move? Should I make this change now? Should I wait for the future?”

How memorable or amplifiable is your current brand?

Well, these are the questions that I would urge you to consider. How memorable and amplifiable is your current brand? That’s something that if you are recognizing like, “Hey I think our brand name, in fact, is holding us back in search results and social media amplification, press, in blog mentions, in journalist links and these kinds of things,” well, that’s something serious to think about. Word of mouth too.

Will you maintain your current brand name long term?

So if you know that sometime in the next two, three, four, or five years you do want to move to StarToys, I would actually strongly urge you to do that right now, because the longer you wait, the longer it will take to build up the signals around the new domain and the more pain you’ll potentially incur by having to keep branding this and working on this old brand name. So I would strongly urge you, if you know you’re going to make the move eventually, make it today. Take the pain now, rather than more pain later.

Can or have you tested brand preference with your target audience?

I would urge you to find two different groups, one who are loyal customers today, people who know SciFiToysAndGames.com and have used it, and two, people who are potential customers, but aren’t yet familiar with it.

You don’t need to do big sample-sizes. If you can get 5, 10, or 15 people either in a room or talk to them in person, you can try some web surveys, you can try using some social media ads like things on Facebook. I’ve seen some companies do some testing around this. Even buying potential PPC ads and seeing how click-through rates perform and sentiment and those kinds of things, that is a great way to help validate your ideas, especially if you’re forced to bring data to a table by executives or other stakeholders.

How much traffic would you need in one year to justify a URL move?

The last thing I think about is imagine, and I want you to either imagine or even model this out, mathematically model it out. If your traffic growth rate — so let’s say you’re growing at 10% year-over-year right now — if that improved 1%, 5%, or 10% annually with a new brand name, would you make the move? So knowing that you might take a short-term hit, but then that your growth rate would be incrementally higher in years to come, how big would that growth rate need to be?

I would say that, in general, if I were thinking about these two domains, granted this is a hard case because you don’t know exactly how much more brandable or word-of-mouth-able or amplifiable your new one might be compared to your existing one. Well, gosh, my general thing here is if you think that’s going to be a substantive percentage, say 5% plus, almost always it’s worth it, because compound growth rate over a number of years will mean that you’re winning big time. Remember that that growth rate is different that raw growth. If you can incrementally increase your growth rate, you get tremendously more traffic when you look back two, three, four, or five years later.

Where does your current and future URL live on the domain/brand name spectrum?

I also made this domain name, brand name spectrum, because I wanted to try and visualize crappiness of domain name, brand name to really good domain name, brand name. I wanted to give some examples and then extract out some elements so that maybe you can start to build on these things thematically as you’re considering your own domains.

So from awful, we go to tolerable, good, and great. So Science-Fi-Toys.net is obviously terrible. I’ve taken a contraction of the name and the actual one. It’s got a .net. It’s using hyphens. It’s infinitely unmemorable up to what I think is tolerable — SciFiToysAndGames.com. It’s long. There are some questions about how type-in-able it is, how easy it is to type in. SciFiToys.com, which that’s pretty good. SciFiToys, relatively short, concise. It still has the “sci-fi” in there, but it’s a .com. We’re getting better. All the way up to, I really love the name, StarToys. I think it’s very brandable, very memorable. It’s concise. It’s easy to remember and type in. It has positive associations probably with most science fiction toy buyers who are familiar with at least “Star Wars” or “Star Trek.” It’s cool. It has some astronomy connotations too. Just a lot of good stuff going on with that domain name.

Then, another one, Region-Data-API.com. That sucks. NeighborhoodInfo.com. Okay, at least I know what it is. Neighborhood is a really hard name to type because it is very hard for many people to spell and remember. It’s long. I don’t totally love it. I don’t love the “info” connotation, which is generic-y.

DistrictData.com has a nice, alliterative ring to it. But maybe we could do even better and actually there is a company, WalkScore.com, which I think is wonderfully brandable and memorable and really describes what it is without being too in your face about the generic brand of we have regional data about places.

What if you’re doing mobile apps? BestAndroidApps.com. You might say, “Why is that in awful?” The answer is two things. One, it’s the length of the domain name and then the fact that you’re actually using someone else’s trademark in your name, which can be really risky. Especially if you start blowing up, getting big, Google might go and say, “Oh, do you have Android in your domain name? We’ll take that please. Thank you very much.”

BestApps.io, in the tech world, it’s very popular to use domains like .io or .ly. Unfortunately, I think once you venture outside of the high tech world, it’s really tough to get people to remember that that is a domain name. If you put up a billboard that says “BestApps.com,” a majority of people will go, “Oh, that’s a website.” But if you use .io, .ly, or one of the new domain names, .ninja, a lot of people won’t even know to connect that up with, “Oh, they mean an Internet website that I can type into my browser or look for.”

So we have to remember that we sometimes live in a bubble. Outside of that bubble are a lot of people who, if it’s not .com, questionable as to whether they’re even going to know what it is. Remember outside of the U.S., country code domain names work equally well — .co.uk, .ca, .co.za, wherever you are.

InstallThis.com. Now we’re getting better. Memorable, clear. Then all the way up to, I really like the name AppCritic.com. I have positive associations with like, “Oh year, restaurant critics, food critics, and movie critics, and this is an app critic. Great, that’s very cool.”

What are the things that are in here? Well, stuff at this end of the spectrum tends to be generic, forgettable, hard to type in. It’s long, brand-infringing, danger, danger, and sketchy sounding. It’s hard to quantify what sketchy sounding is, but you know it when you see it. When you’re reviewing domain names, you’re looking for links, you’re looking at things in the SERPs, you’re like, “Hmm, I don’t know about this one.” Having that sixth sense is something that we all develop over time, so sketchy sounding not quite as scientific as I might want for a description, but powerful.

On this end of the spectrum though, domain names and brand names tend to be unique, memorable, short. They use .com. Unfortunately, still the gold standard. Easy to type in, pronounceable. That’s a powerful thing too, especially because of word of mouth. We suffered with that for a long time with SEOmoz because many people saw it and thought, “Oh, ShowMoz, COMoz, SeeMoz.” It sucked. Have positive associations, like StarToys or WalkScore or AppCritic. They have these positive, pre-built-in associations psychologically that suggest something brandable.

Scenario B: Consolidating two sites

Scenario B, and then we’ll get to the end, but scenario B is the question like, “Should I consolidate?” Let’s say I’m running both of these today. Or more realistic and many times I see people like this, you’re running AppCritic.com and StarToys.com, and you think, “Boy, these are pretty separate.” But then you keep finding overlap between them. Your content tends to overlap, the audience tends to overlap. I find this with many, many folks who run multiple domains.

How much audience and content overlap is there?

So we’ve got to consider a few things. First off, that audience and content overlap. If you’ve got StarToys and AppCritic and the overlap is very thin, just that little, tiny piece in the middle there. The content doesn’t overlap much, the audience doesn’t overlap much. It probably doesn’t make that much sense.

But what if you’re finding like, “Gosh, man, we’re writing more and more about apps and tech and mobile and web stuff on StarToys, and we’re writing more and more about other kinds of geeky, fun things on AppCritic. Slowly it feels like these audiences are merging.” Well, now you might want to consider that consolidation.

Is there potential for separate sales or exits?

Second point of consideration, the potential for separate exits or sales. So if you know that you’re going to sell AppCritic.com to someone in the future and you want to make sure that’s separate from StarToys, you should keep them separate. If you think to yourself, “Gosh, I’d never sell one without the other. They’re really part of the same company, brand, effort,” well, I’d really consider that consolidation.

Will you dilute marketing or branding efforts?

Last point of positive consideration is dilution of marketing and branding efforts. Remember that you’re going to be working on marketing. You’re going to be working on branding. You’re going to be working on growing traffic to these. When you split your efforts, unless you have two relatively large, separate teams, this is very, very hard to do at the same rate that it could be done if you combined those efforts. So another big point of consideration. That compound growth rate that we talked about, that’s another big consideration with this.

Is the topical focus out of context?

What I don’t recommend you consider and what has been unfortunately considered, by a lot of folks in the SEO-centric world in the past, is topical focus of the content. I actually am crossing this out. Not a big consideration. You might say to yourself, “But Rand, we talked about previously on Whiteboard Friday how I can have topical authority around toys and games that are related to science fiction stuff, and I can have topical authority related to mobile apps.”

My answer is if the content overlap is strong and the audience overlap is strong, you can do both on one domain. You can see many, many examples of this across the web, Moz being a great example where we talk about startups and technology and sometimes venture capital and team building and broad marketing and paid search marketing and organic search marketing and just a ton of topics, but all serving the same audience and content. Because that overlap is strong, we can be an authority in all of these realms. Same goes for any time you’re considering these things.

All right everyone, hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Whiteboard Friday. I look forward to some great comments, and we’ll see you again next week. take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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​Inbound Lead Generation: eCommerce Marketing’s Missing Link

Posted by Everett

If eCommerce businesses hope to remain competitive with Amazon, eBay, big box brands, and other online retail juggernauts, they’ll need to learn how to conduct content marketing, lead generation, and contact nurturing as part of a comprehensive inbound marketing strategy.

First, I will discuss some of the ways most online retailers are approaching email from the bottom of the funnel upward, and why this needs to be turned around. Then we can explore how to go about doing this within the framework of “Inbound Marketing” for eCommerce businesses. Lastly, popular marketing automation and email marketing solutions are discussed in the context of inbound marketing for eCommerce.

Key differences between eCommerce and lead generation approaches to email

Different list growth strategies

Email acquisition sources differ greatly between lead gen. sites and online stores. The biggest driver of email acquisition for most eCommerce businesses are their shoppers, especially when the business doesn’t collect an email address for their contact database until the shopper provides it during the check-out process—possibly, not until the very end.

With most B2B/B2C lead gen. websites, the entire purpose of every landing page is to get visitors to submit a contact form or pick up the phone. Often, the price tag for their products or services is much higher than those of an eCommerce site or involves recurring payments. In other words, what they’re selling is more difficult to sell. People take longer to make those purchasing decisions. For this reason, leads—in the form of contact names and email addresses—are typically acquired and nurtured without having first become a customer.

Contacts vs. leads

Whether it is a B2B or B2C website, lead gen. contacts (called leads) are thought of as potential customers (clients, subscribers, patients) who need to be nurtured to the point of becoming “sales qualified,” meaning they’ll eventually get a sales call or email that attempts to convert them into a customer.

On the other hand, eCommerce contacts are often thought of primarily as existing customers to whom the marketing team can blast coupons and other offers by email.

Retail sites typically don’t capture leads at the top or middle of the funnel. Only once a shopper has checked out do they get added to the list. Historically, the buying cycle has been short enough that eCommerce sites could move many first-time visitors directly to customers in a single visit.
But this has changed.

Unless your brand is very strong—possibly a luxury brand or one with an offline retail presence—it is probably getting more difficult (i.e. expensive) to acquire new customers. At the same time, attrition rates are rising. Conversion optimization helps by converting more bottom of the funnel visitors. SEO helps drive more traffic into the site, but mostly for middle-of-funnel (category page) and bottom-of-funnel (product page) visitors who may not also be price/feature comparison shopping, or are unable to convert right away because of device or time limitations.

Even savvy retailers publishing content for shoppers higher up in the funnel, such as buyer guides and reviews, aren’t getting an email address and are missing a lot of opportunities because of it.

attract-convert-grow-funnel-inflow-2.jpg

Here’s a thought. If your eCommerce site has a 10 percent conversion rate, you’re doing pretty good by most standards. But what happened to the other 90 percent of those visitors? Will you have the opportunity to connect with them again? Even if you bump that up a few percentage points with retargeting, a lot of potential revenue has seeped out of your funnel without a trace.

I don’t mean to bash the eCommerce marketing community with generalizations. Most lead gen. sites aren’t doing anything spectacular either, and a lot of opportunity is missed all around.

There are many eCommerce brands doing great things marketing-wise. I’m a big fan of
Crutchfield for their educational resources targeting early-funnel traffic, and Neman Tools, Saddleback Leather and Feltraiger for the stories they tell. Amazon is hard to beat when it comes to scalability, product suggestions and user-generated reviews.

Sadly, most eCommerce sites (including many of the major household brands) still approach marketing in this way…

The ol’ bait n’ switch: promising value and delivering spam

Established eCommerce brands have gigantic mailing lists (compared with lead gen. counterparts), to whom they typically send out at least one email each week with “offers” like free shipping, $ off, buy-one-get-one, or % off their next purchase. The lists are minimally segmented, if at all. For example, there might be lists for repeat customers, best customers, unresponsive contacts, recent purchasers, shoppers with abandoned carts, purchases by category, etc.

The missing points of segmentation include which campaign resulted in the initial contact (sometimes referred to as a cohort) and—most importantly—the persona and buying cycle stage that best applies to each contact.

Online retailers often send frequent “blasts” to their entire list or to a few of the large segments mentioned above. Lack of segmentation means contacts aren’t receiving emails based on their interests, problems, or buying cycle stage, but instead, are receiving what they perceive as “generic” emails.

The result of these missing segments and the lack of overarching strategy looks something like this:

My, What a Big LIST You Have!

iStock_000017047747Medium.jpg

TIME reported in 2012 on stats from Responsys that the average online retailer sent out between five and six emails the week after Thanksgiving. Around the same time, the Wall Street Journal reported that the top 100 online retailers sent an average of 177 emails apiece to each of their contacts in 2011. Averaged out, that’s somewhere between three and four emails each week that the contact is receiving from these retailers.

The better to SPAM you with!

iStock_000016088853Medium.jpg

A 2014 whitepaper from SimpleRelevance titled
Email Fail: An In-Depth Evaluation of Top 20 Internet Retailer’s Email Personalization Capabilities (
PDF) found that, while 70 percent of marketing executives believed personalization was of “utmost importance” to their business…

“Only 17 percent of marketing leaders are going beyond basic transactional data to deliver personalized messages to consumers.”

Speaking of email overload, the same report found that some major online retailers sent ten or more emails per week!

simplerelevance-email-report-frequency.png

The result?

All too often, the eCommerce business will carry around big, dead lists of contacts who don’t even bother reading their emails anymore. They end up scrambling toward other channels to “drive more demand,” but because the real problems were never addressed, this ends up increasing new customer acquisition costs.

The cycle looks something like this:

  1. Spend a fortune driving in unqualified traffic from top-of-the-funnel channels
  2. Ignore the majority of those visitors who aren’t ready to purchase
  3. Capture email addresses only for the few visitors who made a purchase
  4. Spam the hell out of those people until they unsubscribe
  5. Spend a bunch more money trying to fill the top of the funnel with even more traffic

It’s like trying to fill your funnel with a bucket full of holes, some of them patched with band-aids.

The real problems

  1. Lack of a cohesive strategy across marketing channels
  2. Lack of a cohesive content strategy throughout all stages of the buying cycle
  3. Lack of persona, buying cycle stage, and cohort-based list segmentation to nurture contacts
  4. Lack of tracking across customer touchpoints and devices
  5. Lack of gated content that provides enough value to early-funnel visitors to get them to provide their email address

So, what’s the answer?

Inbound marketing allows online retailers to stop competing with Amazon and other “price focused” competitors with leaky funnels, and to instead focus on:

  1. Persona-based content marketing campaigns designed to acquire email addresses from high-quality leads (potential customers) by offering them the right content for each stage in their buyer’s journey
  2. A robust marketing automation system that makes true personalization scalable
  3. Automated contact nurturing emails triggered by certain events, such as viewing specific content, abandoning their shopping cart, adding items to their wish list or performing micro-conversions like downloading a look book
  4. Intelligent SMM campaigns that match visitors and customers with social accounts by email addresses, interests and demographics—as well as social monitoring
  5. Hyper-segmented email contact lists to support the marketing automation described above, as well as to provide highly-customized email and shopping experiences
  6. Cross-channel, closed loop reporting to provide a complete “omnichannel” view of online marketing efforts and how they assist offline conversions, if applicable

Each of these areas will be covered in more detail below. First, let’s take a quick step back and define what it is we’re talking about here.

Inbound marketing: a primer

A lot of people think “inbound marketing” is just a way some SEO agencies are re-cloaking themselves to avoid negative associations with search engine optimization. Others think it’s synonymous with “internet marketing.” I think it goes more like this:

Inbound marketing is to Internet marketing as SEO is to inbound marketing: One piece of a larger whole.

There are many ways to define inbound marketing. A cursory review of definitions from several trusted sources reveals some fundamental similarities :

Rand Fishkin

randfishkin.jpeg

“Inbound Marketing is the practice of earning traffic and attention for your business on the web rather than buying it or interrupting people to get it. Inbound channels include organic search, social media, community-building content, opt-in email, word of mouth, and many others. Inbound marketing is particularly powerful because it appeals to what people are looking for and what they want, rather than trying to get between them and what they’re trying to do with advertising. Inbound’s also powerful due to the flywheel-effect it creates. The more you invest in Inbound and the more success you have, the less effort required to earn additional benefit.”


Mike King

mikeking.jpeg

“Inbound Marketing is a collection of marketing activities that leverage remarkable content to penetrate earned media channels such as Organic Search, Social Media, Email, News and the Blogosphere with the goal of engaging prospects when they are specifically interested in what the brand has to offer.”

This quote is from 2012, and is still just as accurate today. It’s from an
Inbound.org comment thread where you can also see many other takes on it from the likes of Ian Lurie, Jonathon Colman, and Larry Kim.


Inflow

inflow-logo.jpeg

“Inbound Marketing is a multi-channel, buyer-centric approach to online marketing that involves attracting, engaging, nurturing and converting potential customers from wherever they are in the buying cycle.”

From Inflow’s
Inbound Services page.


Wikipedia

wikipedia.jpeg

“Inbound marketing refers to marketing activities that bring visitors in, rather than marketers having to go out to get prospects’ attention. Inbound marketing earns the attention of customers, makes the company easy to be found, and draws customers to the website by producing interesting content.”

From
Inbound Marketing – Wikipedia.


Larry-Kim.jpeg

Larry Kim

“Inbound marketing” refers to marketing activities that bring leads and customers in when they’re ready, rather than you having to go out and wave your arms to try to get people’s attention.”

Via
Marketing Land in 2013. You can also read more of Larry Kim’s interpretation, along with many others, on Inbound.org.


Hubspot

“Instead of the old outbound marketing methods of buying ads, buying email lists, and praying for leads, inbound marketing focuses on creating quality content that pulls people toward your company and product, where they naturally want to be.”

Via
Hubspot, a marketing automation platform for inbound marketing.

When everyone has their own definition of something, it helps to think about what they have in common, as opposed to how they differ. In the case of inbound, this includes concepts such as:

  • Pull (inbound) vs. push (interruption) marketing
  • “Earning” media coverage, search engine rankings, visitors and customers with outstanding content
  • Marketing across channels
  • Meeting potential customers where they are in their buyer’s journey

Running your first eCommerce inbound marketing campaign

Audience personas—priority no. 1

The magic happens when retailers begin to hyper-segment their list based on buyer personas and other relevant information (i.e. what they’ve downloaded, what they’ve purchased, if they abandoned their cart…). This all starts with audience research to develop personas. If you need more information on persona development, try these resources:

Once personas are developed, retailers should choose one on which to focus. A complete campaign strategy should be developed around this persona, with the aim of providing the “right value” to them at the “right time” in their buyer’s journey.

Ready to get started?

We’ve developed a quick-start guide in the form of a checklist for eCommerce marketers who want to get started with inbound marketing, which you can access below.

inbound ecommerce checklist

Hands-on experience running one campaign will teach you more about inbound marketing than a dozen articles. My advice: Just do one. You will make mistakes. Learn from them and get better each time.

Example inbound marketing campaign

Below is an example of how a hypothetical inbound marketing campaign might play out, assuming you have completed all of the steps in the checklist above. Imagine you handle marketing for an online retailer of high-end sporting goods.

AT Hiker Tommy campaign: From awareness to purchase

When segmenting visitors and customers for a “high-end sporting goods / camping retailer” based on the East Coast, you identified a segment of “Trail Hikers.” These are people with disposable income who care about high-quality gear, and will pay top dollar if they know it is tested and reliable. The top trail on their list of destinations is the
Appalachian Trail (AT).

Top of the Funnel: SEO & Strategic Content Marketing

at-tommy.jpg

Tommy’s first action is to do “top of the funnel” research from search engines (one reason why SEO is still so important to a complete inbound marketing strategy).

A search for “Hiking the Appalachian Trail” turns up your article titled “What NOT to Pack When Hiking the Appalachian Trail,” which lists common items that are bulky/heavy, and highlights slimmer, lighter alternatives from your online catalog.

It also highlights the difference between cheap gear and the kind that won’t let you down on your 2,181 mile journey through the wilderness of Appalachia, something you learned was important to Tommy when developing his persona. This allows you to get the company’s value proposition of “tested, high-end, quality gear only” in front of readers very early in their buyer’s journey—important if you want to differentiate your site from all of the retailers racing Amazon to the bottom of their profit margins.

So far you have yet to make “contact” with AT Hiker Tommy. The key to “acquiring” a contact before the potential customer is ready to make a purchase is to provide something of value to that specific type of person (i.e. their persona) at that specific point in time (i.e. their buying cycle stage).

In this case, we need to provide value to AT Hiker Tommy while he is getting started on his research about hiking the Appalachian Trail. He has an idea of what gear not to bring, as well as some lighter, higher-end options sold on your site. At this point, however, he is not ready to buy anything without researching the trail more. This is where retailers lose most of their potential customers. But not you. Not this time…

Middle of the funnel: Content offers, personalization, social & email nurturing

at-hiker-ebook.png

On the “What NOT to Pack When Hiking the Appalachian Trail” article (and probably several others), you have placed a call-to-action (CTA) in the form of a button that offers something like:

Download our Free 122-page Guide to Hiking the Appalachian Trail

This takes Tommy to a landing page showcasing some of the quotes from the book, and highlighting things like:

“We interviewed over 50 ‘thru-hikers’ who completed the AT and have curated and organized the best first-hand tips, along with our own significant research to develop a free eBook that should answer most of your questions about the trail.”

By entering their email address potential customers agree to allow you to send them the free PDF downloadable guide to hiking the AT, and other relevant information about hiking.

An automated email is sent with a link to the downloadable PDF guide, and several other useful content links, such as “The AT Hiker’s Guide to Gear for the Appalachian Trail”—content designed to move Tommy further toward the purchase of hiking gear.

If Tommy still has not made a purchase within the next two weeks, another automated email is sent asking for feedback about the PDF guide (providing the link again), and to again provide the link to the “AT Hiker’s Guide to Gear…” along with a compelling offer just for him, perhaps “Get 20% off your first hiking gear purchase, and a free wall map of the AT!”

Having Tommy’s email address also allows you to hyper-target him on social channels, while also leveraging his initial visit to initiate retargeting efforts.

Bottom of the funnel: Email nurturing & strategic, segmented offers

Eventually Tommy makes a purchase, and he may or may not receive further emails related to this campaign, such as post-purchase emails for reviews, up-sells and cross-sells.

Upon checkout, Tommy checked the box to opt-in to weekly promotional emails. He is now on multiple lists. Your marketing automation system will automatically update Tommy’s status from “Contact” or lead, to “Customer” and potentially remove or deactivate him from the marketing automation system database. This is accomplished either by default integration features, or with the help of integration tools like
Zapier and IFTTT.

You have now nurtured Tommy from his initial research on Google all the way to his first purchase without ever having sent a spammy newsletter email full of irrelevant coupons and other offers. However, now that he is a loyal customer, Tommy finds value in these bottom-of-funnel email offers.

And this is just the start

Every inbound marketing campaign will have its own mix of appropriate channels. This post has focused mostly on email because acquiring the initial permission to contact the person is what fuels most of the other features offered by marketing automation systems, including:

  • Personalization of offers and other content on the site.
  • Knowing exactly which visitors are interacting on social media
  • Knowing where visitors and social followers are in the buying cycle and which persona best represents them, among other things.
  • Smart forms that don’t require visitors to put in the same information twice and allow you to build out more detailed profiles of them over time.
  • Blogging platforms that tie into email and marketing automation systems
  • Analytics data that isn’t blocked by Google and is tied directly to real people.
  • Closed-loop reporting that integrates with call-tracking and Google’s Data Import tool
  • Up-sell, cross-sell, and abandoned cart reclamation features
Three more things…
  1. If you can figure out a way to get Tommy to “log in” when he comes to your site, the personalization possibilities are nearly limitless.
  2. The persona above is based on a real customer segment. I named it after my friend Tommy Bailey, who actually did write the eBook
    Guide to Hiking the Appalachian Trail, featured in the image above.
  3. This Moz post is part of an inbound marketing campaign targeting eCommerce marketers, a segment Inflow identified while building out our own personas. Our hope, and the whole point of inbound marketing, is that it provides value to you.

Current state of the inbound marketing industry

Inbound has, for the the most part, been applied to businesses in which the website objective is to generate leads for a sales team to follow-up with and close the deal. An examination of various marketing automation platforms—a key component of scalable inbound marketing programs—highlights this issue.

Popular marketing automation systems

Most of the major marketing automation systems can be be used very effectively as the backbone of an inbound marketing program for eCommerce businesses. However, only one of them (Silverpop) has made significant efforts to court the eCommerce market with content and out-of-box features. The next closest thing is Hubspot, so let’s start with those two:

Silverpop – an IBMⓇ Company

silver-pop.jpeg

Unlike the other platforms below, right out of the box Silverpop allows marketers to tap into very specific behaviors, including the items purchased or left in the cart.

You can easily segment based on metrics like the Recency, Frequency and Monetary Value (RFM) of purchases:

silverpop triggered campaigns

You can automate personalized shopping cart abandonment recovery emails:

silverpop cart abandonment recovery

You can integrate with many leading brands offering complementary services, including: couponing, CRM, analytics, email deliverability enhancement, social and most major eCommerce platforms.

What you can’t do with Silverpop is blog, find pricing info on their website, get a free trial on their website or have a modern-looking user experience. Sounds like an IBMⓇ company, doesn’t it?

HubSpot

Out of all the marketing automation platforms on this list, HubSpot is the most capable of handling “inbound marketing” campaigns from start to finish. This should come as no surprise, given the phrase is credited to
Brian Halligan, HubSpot’s co-founder and CEO.

While they don’t specifically cater to eCommerce marketing needs with the same gusto they give to lead gen. marketing, HubSpot does have
an eCommerce landing page and a demo landing page for eCommerce leads, which suggests that their own personas include eCommerce marketers. Additionally, there is some good content on their blog written specifically for eCommerce.

HubSpot has allowed some key partners to develop plug-ins that integrate with leading eCommerce platforms. This approach works well with curation, and is not dissimilar to how Google handles Android or Apple handles their approved apps.

magento and hubspot

The
Magento Connector for HubSpot, which costs $80 per month, was developed by EYEMAGiNE, a creative design firm for eCommerce websites. A similar HubSpot-approved third-party integration is on the way for Bigcommerce.

Another eCommerce integration for Hubspot is a Shopify plug-in called
HubShoply, which was developed by Groove Commerce and costs $100 per month.

You can also use HubSpot’s native integration capabilities with
Zapier to sync data between HubSpot and most major eCommerce SaaS vendors, including the ones above, as well as WooCommerce, Shopify, PayPal, Infusionsoft and more. However, the same could be said of some of the other marketing automation platforms, and using these third-party solutions can sometimes feel like fitting a square peg into a round hole.

HubSpot can and does handle inbound marketing for eCommerce websites. All of the features are there, or easy enough to integrate. But let’s put some pressure on them to up their eCommerce game even more. The least they can do is put an eCommerce link in the footer:

hubspot menus

Despite the lack of clear navigation to their eCommerce content, HubSpot seems to be paying more attention to the needs of eCommerce businesses than the rest of the platforms below.

Marketo

Nothing about Marketo’s in-house marketing strategy suggests “Ecommerce Director Bob” might be one of their personas. The description for each of
their marketing automation packages (from Spark to Enterprise) mentions that it is “for B2B” websites.

marketo screenshot

Driving Sales could apply to a retail business so I clicked on the link. Nope. Clearly, this is for lead generation.

marketo marketing automation

Passing “purchase-ready leads” over to your “sales reps” is a good example of the type of language used throughout the site.

Make no mistake, Marketo is a top-notch marketing automation platform. Powerful and clean, it’s a shame they don’t launch a full-scale eCommerce version of their core product. In the meantime, there’s the
Magento Integration for Marketo Plug-in developed by an agency out of Australia called Hoosh Marketing.

magento marketo integration

I’ve never used this integration, but it’s part of Marketo’s
LaunchPoint directory, which I imagine is vetted, and Hoosh seems like a reputable agency.

Their
pricing page is blurred and gated, which is annoying, but perhaps they’ll come on here and tell everyone how much they charge.

marketo pricing page

As with all others except Silverpop, the Marketo navigation provides no easy paths to landing pages that would appeal to “Ecommerce Director Bob.”

Pardot

This option is a
SalesForce product, so—though I’ve never had the opportunity to use it—I can imagine Pardot is heavy on B2B/Sales and very light on B2C marketing for retail sites.

The hero image on their homepage says as much.

pardot tagline

pardot marketing automationAgain, no mention of eCommerce or retail, but clear navigation to lead gen and sales.

Eloqua / OMC

eloqua-logo.jpeg

Eloqua, now part of the Oracle Marketing Cloud (OMC), has a landing page
for the retail industry, on which they proclaim:

“Retail marketers know that the path to lifelong loyalty and increased revenue goes through building and growing deep client relationships.”

Since when did retail marketers start calling customers clients?

eloqua integration

The Integration tab on OMC’s “…Retail.html” page helpfully informs eCommerce marketers that their sales teams can continue using CRM systems like SalesForce and Microsoft Dynamics but doesn’t mention anything about eCommerce platforms and other SaaS solutions for eCommerce businesses.

Others

There are many other players in this arena. Though I haven’t used them yet, three I would love to try out are
SharpSpring, Hatchbuck and Act-On. But none of them appear to be any better suited to handle the concerns of eCommerce websites.

Where there’s a gap, there’s opportunity

The purpose of the section above wasn’t to highlight deficiencies in the tools themselves, but to illustrate a gap in who they are being marketed to and developed for.

So far, most of your eCommerce competitors probably aren’t using tools like these because they are not marketed to by the platforms, and don’t know how to apply the technology to online retail in a way that would justify the expense.

The thing is, a tool is just a tool

The
key concepts behind inbound marketing apply just as much to online retail as they do to lead generation.

In order to “do inbound marketing,” a marketing automation system isn’t even strictly necessary (in theory). They just help make the activities scalable for most businesses.

They also bring a lot of different marketing activities under one roof, which saves time and allows data to be moved and utilized between channels and systems. For example, what a customer is doing on social could influence the emails they receive, or content they see on your site. Here are some potential uses for most of the platforms above:

Automated marketing uses

  • Personalized abandoned cart emails
  • Post-purchase nurturing/reorder marketing
  • Welcome campaigns for the newsletter (other free offer) signups
  • Winback campaigns
  • Lead-nurturing email campaigns for cohorts and persona-based segments

Content marketing uses

  • Optimized, strategic blogging platforms, and frameworks
  • Landing pages for pre-transactional/educational offers or contests
  • Social media reporting, monitoring, and publishing
  • Personalization of content and user experience

Reporting uses

  • Revenue reporting (by segment or marketing action)
  • Attribution reporting (by campaign or content)

Assuming you don’t have the budget for a marketing automation system, but already have a good email marketing platform, you can still get started with inbound marketing. Eventually, however, you may want to graduate to a dedicated marketing automation solution to reap the full benefits.

Email marketing platforms

Most of the marketing automation systems claim to replace your email marketing platform, while many email marketing platforms claim to be marketing automation systems. Neither statement is completely accurate.

Marketing automation systems, especially those created specifically for the type of “inbound” campaigns described above, provide a powerful suite of tools all in one place. On the other hand, dedicated email platforms tend to offer “email marketing” features that are better, and more robust, than those offered by marketing automation systems. Some of them are also considerably cheaper—such as
MailChimp—but those are often light on even the email-specific features for eCommerce.

A different type of campaign

Email “blasts” in the form of B.O.G.O., $10 off or free shipping offers can still be very successful in generating incremental revenue boosts — especially for existing customers and seasonal campaigns.

The conversion rate on a 20% off coupon sent to existing customers, for instance, would likely pulverize the conversion rate of an email going out to middle-of-funnel contacts with a link to content (at least with how CR is currently being calculated by email platforms).

Inbound marketing campaigns can also offer quick wins, but they tend to focus mostly on non-customers after the first segmentation campaign (a campaign for the purpose of segmenting your list, such as an incentivised survey). This means lower initial conversion rates, but long-term success with the growth of new customers.

Here’s a good bet if works with your budget: Rely on a marketing automation system for inbound marketing to drive new customer acquisition from initial visit to first purchase, while using a good email marketing platform to run your “promotional email” campaigns to existing customers.

If you have to choose one or the other, I’d go with a robust marketing automation system.

Some of the most popular email platforms used by eCommerce businesses, with a focus on how they handle various Inbound Marketing activities, include:

Bronto

bronto.jpeg

This platform builds in features like abandoned cart recovery, advanced email list segmentation and automated email workflows that nurture contacts over time.

They also offer a host of eCommerce-related
features that you just don’t get with marketing automation systems like Hubspot and Marketo. This includes easy integration with a variety of eCommerce platforms like ATG, Demandware, Magento, Miva Merchant, Mozu and MarketLive, not to mention apps for coupons, product recommendations, social shopping and more. Integration with enterprise eCommerce platforms is one reason why Bronto is seen over and over again when browsing the Internet Retailer Top 500 reports.

On the other hand, Bronto—like the rest of these email platforms—doesn’t have many of the features that assist with content marketing outside of emails. As an “inbound” marketing automation system, it is incomplete because it focuses almost solely on one channel: email.

Vertical Response

verticalresponse.jpeg

Another juggernaut in eCommerce email marketing platforms, Vertical Response, has even fewer inbound-related features than Bronto, though it is a good email platform with a free version that includes up to 1,000 contacts and 4,000 emails per month (i.e. 4 emails to a full list of 1,000).

Oracle Marketing Cloud (OMC)

Responsys (the email platform), like Eloqua (the marketing automation system) was gobbled up by Oracle and is now part of their “Marketing Cloud.”

It has been my experience that when a big technology firm like IBM or Oracle buys a great product, it isn’t “great” for the users. Time will tell.

Listrak

listrak.jpeg

Out of the established email platforms for eCommerce, Listrak may do the best job at positioning themselves as a full inbound marketing platform.

Listrak’s value proposition is that they’re an “Omnichannel” solution. Everything is all in one “Single, Integrated Digital Marketing Platform for Retailers.” The homepage image promises solutions for Email, Mobile, Social, Web and In-Store channels.

I haven’t had the opportunity to work with Listrak yet, but would love to hear feedback in the comments on whether they could handle the kind of persona-based content marketing and automated email nurturing campaigns described in the example campaign above.

Key takeaways

Congratulations for making this far! Here are a few things I hope you’ll take away from this post:

  • There is a lot of opportunity right now for eCommerce sites to take advantage of marketing automation systems and robust email marketing platforms as the infrastructure to run comprehensive inbound marketing campaigns.
  • There is a lot of opportunity right now for marketing automation systems to develop content and build in eCommerce-specific features to lure eCommerce marketers.
  • Inbound marketing isn’t email marketing, although email is an important piece to inbound because it allows you to begin forming lasting relationships with potential customers much earlier in the buying cycle.
  • To see the full benefits of inbound marketing, you should focus on getting the right content to the right person at the right time in their shopping journey. This necessarily involves several different channels, including search, social and email. One of the many benefits of marketing automation systems is their ability to track your efforts here across marketing channels, devices and touch-points.

Tools, resources, and further reading

There is a lot of great content on the topic of Inbound marketing, some of which has greatly informed my own understanding and approach. Here are a few resources you may find useful as well.

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!

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Hiring for SEO: How to Find and Hire Someone with Little or No Experience

Posted by RuthBurrReedy

SEO is a seller’s market. The supply of people with SEO experience is currently no match for the demand for search engine marketing services, as anyone who has spent months searching for the right SEO candidate can tell you. Even in a big city with a booming tech scene (like Seattle, LA, New York, or Austin), experienced SEOs are thin on the ground. In a local market where the economy is less tech-driven (like, say, Oklahoma City, where I work), finding an experienced SEO (even one with just a year or two of experience) is like finding a unicorn.

You’re hired. (Photo via 
Pixabay)

If you’re looking for an in-house SEO or someone to run your whole program, you may have no choice but to hold out for a hero (and think about relocating someone). If you’re an SEO trying to grow a team of digital marketers at an agency or to expand a large in-house team, sometimes your best bet is to hire someone with no digital marketing experience but a lot of potential and train them. 

However, you can’t plug just anyone into an SEO role, train them up right and have them be fantastic (or enjoy their job); there are definite skills, talents and personality traits that contribute to success in digital marketing.

Most advice on hiring SEOs is geared toward making sure they know their stuff and aren’t spammers. That’s not really applicable to hiring at the trainee level, though. So how can you tell whether someone is right for a job they’ve never done? At BigWing, we’ve had a lot of success hiring smart young people and turning them into digital marketers, and there are a few things we look for in a candidate.

Are they an aggressive, independent learner?

Successful SEOs spend a ton of time on continued learning—reading blogs, attending conferences and webinars, discussing and testing new techniques—and a lot of that learning happens outside of normal work hours. The right candidate should be someone who loves learning and has the ability to independently drive their ongoing education.

Ask job candidates about another situation where they’ve had to quickly pick up a new skill. What did they do to learn it? How did that go? If it’s never come up for them, ask what they might do in that situation.

Interview prep is something I always look for in a candidate, since it shows they’re actually interested in the job. Ask what they’ve done to prep for the interview. Did they take a look at your company website? Maybe do some Googling to find other informational resources on what digital marketing entails? What did they learn? Where did they learn it? How did they find it?

Give your candidates some homework before the interview. Have them read the 
Beginner’s Guide to SEO, maybe Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide, or the demo modules at Distilled U. How much of it did they retain? More importantly, what did they learn? Which brings us to:

Do they have a small understanding of what SEO is and why we do it?

I’ve seen a lot of people get excited about learning SEO, do OK for a year or two, and then crash and burn. The number one cause of SEO flame-out or burn-out, in my experience, is an inability to pivot from old tactics to new ones. This failure often stems from a fundamental lack of understanding of what SEO is (marketing, connecting websites that have stuff with people who want that stuff) and what it is not (any single SEO tactic).

It can be frustrating when the methods you originally learned on, or that used to work so well, dry up and blow away (I’m looking at you, siloing and PageRank sculpting). If you’re focused on what tricks and tactics can get you ranking #1, instead of on how you’re using digital techniques to market to and connect with potential customers, sooner or later the rug’s going to get pulled out from under you.

Ask your candidates: what did they retain from their research? Are they totally focused on the search engine, or have they thought about how visits can turn into revenue? Do they seem more interested in being a hacker, or a marketer? Some people really fall in love with the idea that they could manipulate search engines to do what they want; I look for people who are more in love with the idea of using the Internet as a tool to connect businesses with their customers, since ultimately your SEO client is going to want revenue, not just rankings.

Another trait I look for in the interview process is empathy. Can they articulate why a business might want to invest in search? Ask them to imagine some fears or concerns a small business owner might have when starting up an Internet marketing program. This is especially important for agency work, where communicating success requires an understanding of your client’s goals and concerns.

Can they write?

Photo via 
Pixabay

Even if you’re looking to grow someone into a technical SEO, not a content creator, SEO involves writing well. You’re going to have to be able to create on-page elements that not only communicate topical relevance to search engines but also appeal to users.

This should go without saying, but in my experience definitely doesn’t: their resume should be free of typos and grammatical errors. Not only is this an indicator of their ability to write while unsupervised, it’s also an indicator of their attention to detail and how seriously they’re taking the position.

Any kind of writing experience is a major plus for me when looking at a resume, but isn’t necessarily a requirement. It’s helpful to get some idea of what they’re capable of, though. Ask for a writing sample, and better yet, look for a writing sample in the wild online. Have they blogged before?
You’ll almost certainly be exchanging emails with a candidate before an interview—pay attention to how they communicate via email. Is it hard to tell what they’re talking about? Good writing isn’t just about grammar; it’s about communicating ideas.

I like to give candidates a scenario like “A client saw traffic to their website decline because of an error we failed to detect. We found and corrected the error, but their traffic numbers are still down for the month,” and have them compose a pretend email to the client about what happened. This is a great way to test both their written communication skills and their empathy for the client. Are you going to have to proofread their client emails before they go out? That sounds tedious.

How are their critical thinking and data analysis skills?

A brand-new digital marketer probably won’t have any experience with analytics tools like Google Analytics, and that’s OK—you can teach them how to use those. What’s harder to teach is an ability to think critically and to use data to make decisions.

Have your candidates ever been in a situation where they needed to use data to figure out what to do next? What about tell a story, back up a claim or change someone’s mind? Recent college grads should all have recent experience with this, regardless of their major—critical thinking and data analysis are what college is all about.
How comfortable are they in Microsoft Excel? They don’t have to love it, but if they absolutely loathe it, SEO probably isn’t for them. Would it make them miserable to spend most of a day in a spreadsheet (not every day, but fairly regularly)?

Are they a citizen of the web?

Even if they’ve never heard of SEO, a new employee is going to have an easier time learning it if they’re already pretty net savvy. An active web presence also indicates a general interest in the the Internet, which is one indicator of whether they’ll have long-term interest in digital marketing as a field. Do some recon: are they active on social media? Have they ever blogged? What comes up when you Google them?

Prior experience

Different applicants will have different backgrounds, and you’ll have the best idea of what skills someone will need to bring to the table to fill the role you need. When I’m reading a resume, I take experience in any of these areas as a good sign:

  • Marketing 
  • Advertising 
  • Public relations 
  • APIs (using them, creating apps with them, what have you) 
  • Web development or coding of any kind 
  • Web design 
  • Copywriting

Your mileage may vary

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Knowyourmeme

Very few candidates are going to excel in all of the areas outlined above, and everyone you talk to is going to be stronger in some areas than others. Since digital marketing can include a wide variety of different tasks, keep in mind the things you’d actually like the person to do on the job; for example, written communication becomes somewhat less important in a non-client-facing role. At the very least, look for a smart, driven person who is excited about digital marketing as a career opportunity (not just as a next paycheck).

Hiring inexperienced people has its risks: the person you hire may not actually turn out to be any good at SEO. They may have more trouble learning it than you anticipated, and once they start doing it, they may decide that SEO just isn’t what they want to do long-term.

On the other hand, hiring and training someone who’s a great fit for your company culture and who is excited about learning often results in a better employee than hiring someone with experience who doesn’t really mesh well with your team. Plus, teaching someone SEO is a great way to make sure they don’t have any bad habits that could put your clients at risk. Best of all, you have the opportunity to unlock a whole career for someone and watch them grow into a world-class marketer—and that’s a great feeling.

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