How to Bolster Your Brand’s Reputation By Giving A Damn

How to Bolster Your Brand’s Reputation By Giving A Damn

At the risk of stressing something that marketing professionals well know, your product is only as good as your brand. But we need to take a moment and reflect on why this axiom is as important now as ever.

Just as the pandemic has upended our lives, it has upended our businesses. Businesses have been burdened by the same pandemic realities everyone is going through. They are trying to figure out how to not just survive but thrive amid the uncertainty. 

Businesses need a partner, not just a product. And in an era of trust and transparency, they need a partner they can count on.

The values you stand for, delivering on what you promise, doing what’s right because you care are all critical to your brand’s reputation.

The Power of a Brand That Actually Really Cares

In short, you give a damn.

Doing anything less is a gamble. Research indicates that corporate reputation has a significant influence on price, perceived service quality and brand preference.

You can lose customers to bad experiences and aggressive competitors. Your credibility can get dragged through the social media gauntlet. If you don’t actively work to bolster your brand’s reputation, you are exponentially at risk from negative PR. 

Without a strong brand, you can’t recover as quickly, while customer loyalty and affinity can weather nearly any storm. Here are some ways to bolster your brand’s reputation. They aren’t particularly difficult. But they do require courage and commitment.      

Be True To Your DNA (aka “Transparency and Genuineness Are Key”)

Be true to your core values in what you do and what you say. What do you stand for? And how do you demonstrate that each day?

Businesses want to work with businesses that are transparent and genuine. If a business outwardly projects itself one way — say a creative, outside-the-box trailblazer — yet inwardly operates much differently — a buttoned-up corporate plodder — your clients will pick up on the ruse. When your external image accurately reflects your internal self, on the other hand, you build trust.

It is no surprise that Patagonia, a company with a global reputation for high-quality products and corporate and environmental responsibility, is atop the 2021 Axios Harris Poll 100 reputation rankings.  

Even the words you use matter. Be bold and authentic in what you say because it signals what you really mean. At Ceros, one of our core values  is, “We give a s***.” At Ceros, we regularly go above and beyond just selling our product to providing creative inspiration throughout the process, from hands-on training to community support. We have a team of people who can help a business with what it needs even when doing so requires going beyond “the contract.” We make this investment because we care. We give a damn.

Being true to your DNA also proves invaluable when a public relations crisis erupts. Remember when Starbucks received widespread criticism in 2018 after two Black men were arrested on suspicion of trespassing after asking to use the bathroom? Starbucks didn’t press charges and later reached a financial settlement with the men.

But the coffeehouse chain that has consistently advocated corporate social responsibility didn’t stop there. The company apologized publicly, fired the employee who called police, and announced it would close its U.S. stores for a day to give anti-bias training to 175,000 employees.

Starbucks practiced what it preached. 

Don’t Be Lame (aka “Be a Trusted Business Partner, Not Just a Product or Service Provider”)

Businesses need an ally, not just a product or service provider. Think of the challenges they face: supply chain troubles, labor difficulties, the pace of technological change, the pandemic.

They need a business partner they can trust to help them navigate their needs and bring solutions to their problems. You need to deliver on exactly what you say you would, and if for some reason you can’t, you need to roll up your sleeves and help. Customer service is not a status page. 

Your reputation also extends to your own business partners and how they do business. How they treat their own employees and think about the world can reflect back upon you.    

Don’t Be Thanos (aka “Win The Battle For Hearts and Minds”)

Humanize your brand. Businesses have become too transactional in their relationships with customers. But customers are people, and people are emotional. Emotion influences their buying experience. 

Show how your brand has a broader impact on society, whether it’s environmental, social or other causes. Research indicates that corporate social responsibility can elevate a brand’s equity and reputation.

Take AIG, for example. The global insurer stresses the importance of diversity, philanthropy and volunteerism and makes deep financial and other commitments to those causes. Earlier this year, it released its first Environmental, Social and Governance Report to measure and manage its efforts in these endeavors. AIG isn’t just making promises. AIG is holding itself accountable, as well.

Become An Advocate For Someone Who Needs One

I once worked for a diagnostic company that made blood glucose testing strips at about a third of the cost of the popular brand-name version. The brand-name manufacturer, a multibillion-dollar company, filed a patent infringement case, which made national news. During the case we heard stories from people with diabetes who with our strips could afford to test themselves at recommended frequency levels to avoid complications and live a better life. 

We knew we faced an uphill battle in this David versus Goliath legal dispute. And yes, we had a business interest in the outcome. But we became emotionally invested in the lives of the people who were going to be most affected. We unintentionally became advocates in a way that we had not been before. We were their collective voice.

Your reputation isn’t just about your business and how you solve problems for customers. It’s also about how you can represent the voices of other people who matter.

Who Are You Fighting For? 

Your brand is a powerful yet fragile thing. It can boost profits, customer goodwill, company morale, and the communities we live in, or if too largely ignored, can begin your organization’s slow march toward irrelevancy. By being true to yourself, a valued business partner and an advocate for others, you can help your brand stand out. 

via How to Bolster Your Brand’s Reputation By Giving A Damn

 

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4 Reputation Management Realities That All Brands Now Face

4 Reputation Management Realities That All Brands Now Face

What do Beyoncé, Kate Middleton, and Harrison Ford have in common? Other than having devoted fan bases, they’re celebrities who have a reputation for giving very few interviews. They control their messaging tightly. 

While Beyoncé and Kate Middleton choose to go directly to their fan bases with highly choreographed messaging through their social media channels, Harrison Ford is one of only a very few celebrities who isn’t on social media at all.

However, whether or not they choose to connect with their fans online, none of these celebrities can stop the millions of rabid fans who run fan accounts, who post to Reddit and Instagram, and who analyze their every move through YouTube videos and blog posts. 

Why does this matter for you and your business? 

Just like celebrities, the rise of fan culture on the internet has fueled both a huge boom in brands’ abilities to control their own reputations, as well as the decentralization of where reputation management lies. 

We are now able to build communities of like-minded customers and brand-fans. With that comes responsibility of monitoring a growing array of websites and spaces where brands rate products, review services, comment, and ask for help. 

4 Key Considerations of Reputation Management

Ratings and Reviews Are No Longer a Choice

“The rating trusted most by consumers is 4 stars followed by 4.5 and 5 stars,” according to review software company ReviewTrackers. 

Many years ago, I worked for a well known arts & crafts brand. At that time, the company I worked for gave the ability to customers to rate and review patterns (the directions consumers would use to create their craft projects), but not the products themselves. 

The thinking was that we didn’t want the companies’ own products to have negative reviews. And yet, study after study shows that a few negative reviews actually bolster trust in reviews overall. Furthermore, customers tend to trust relatively positive reviews most (see above quote from ReviewTrackers).

What brands must do is not only encourage reviews with open arms, but encourage customers to look at positive reviews as social proof. Today, that same company has embraced product reviews both on their website and in their digital marketing efforts. 

And this goes beyond B2C brands. Brands as wide ranging as US Bank, the fifth largest commercial bank in the US whose reviews are mostly on Google My Business, to DeSantis Breindel, a New York City-based branding consultancy whose reviews are on platforms like Clutch (both brands are clients of Convince & Convert) are not only monitoring and responding to reviews, but also using reviews to feed their marketing efforts (see below). 

It’s Not Just What They Say, It’s What You Do

“39 percent of social media complainers who expect a reply want it to come within sixty minutes, yet the average response time from businesses is five hours,” found research by Jay Baer and Edison Research.

In 2016, C&C founder Jay Baer wrote, “​​Haters are not your problem….Ignoring them is.” That reality is more true now than ever before. 

Customers expect help with their issues, and when you don’t respond to negative reviews, your prospective customers will hold you accountable for that inaction. 

To positively impact your reputation, treat reviews as an opportunity for customer service and excellent customer experience. Respond to your reviews; add context; thank brand fans and address fan haters. 

Social Listening Is More Complex Than Ever

“Word of mouth is directly responsible for 19% of all purchases, and influences as much as 90%,” says the book Talk Triggers by Jay Baer and senior strategist Daniel Lemin. 

Outside of owned review channels, brands must monitor reviews and conversations on channels from Facebook and Reddit to the bumper crop of industry-specific review sites such as Zocdoc and Healthgrades. 

Using monitoring tools like Meltwater and Sprinklr helps brands to stay on top of what’s being said. Beyond sentiment and topics, brands must make sure that they are leveraging the built-in AI to analyze conversations for trends to keep on top of what their proactive messaging needs to be. 

Not sure how to leverage these social listening tools to uncover this data? Consulting firms like Premium Blend can help to build strong queries and implement effective listening processes.

Again, it’s not just knowing what people are saying, but also using this data to shape what your brand should be talking about to be relevant to your customer base. 

Showcase Your Customers’ Words and Stories

Reputation management is the reactive part of our work, but we also have the opportunity for reputation marketing. Leverage the stories that your customers are telling about you to market your products/services to prospective customers. 

Whether you’re aggregating real customer social media posts like Korean beauty brand Hanacure does on their @hanacureeffect Instagram account or you’re using a tool like SocialProve to pop-up notifications to website visitors that indicates when others have purchased on your website, you’re engaging in reputation marketing. 

What are some ways that your brand can leverage customer stories as social proof? 

  • Proactively turn user-generated content (UGC) into social media campaigns
  • Leverage customer reviews and quotes on landing pages
  • Showcase real customer feedback in advertising
  • Address questions you’re getting from Quora, Reddit, and/or your own communities as content
  • Create animated videos featuring customer reviews 
  • Integrate real questions into your chatbot scripts or FAQs
  • Highlight your review scores using in your top-navigation and/or footer

via 4 Reputation Management Realities That All Brands Now Face

What Brands Need to Know About Misinformation and Disinformation

What Brands Need to Know About Misinformation and Disinformation

 There are no earthworms in beef jerky sticks. It is important I state that up front, lest anyone not read this post in its entirety.

Misinformation Opened A Can Of Worms For Me

Beef jerky was my earliest memory of encountering misinformation. I always seemed to be running late at lunch when I was in grade school. Waiting in line for mediocre school food was both unexciting and also put me at risk of running late to my after lunch class. So I often used my lunch money to buy snacks from the school cafeteria’s snack bar. That generally involved chips, cookies and Slim Jim beef jerky sticks (for protein, naturally). Oh how I loved Slim Jim.

A fellow classmate nudged me one day and told me – so everyone around could hear – that beef jerky contains earthworms. Specifically, “earth bait.” 

He took “earth bait” to mean “earthworm” and thought I should know. He was not a kid I generally liked so his opinion held little sway, but I was curious about the idea and frankly rather grossed out. I investigated my now unfurled Slim Jim plastic sleeve. There was, in fact, no earthworm or earth bait on the list of ingredients. 

Among the many other very questionable ingredients one did stand out to me, though: erythorbate. This is a commonly used preservative and, if you say it fast it does in fact sound like “earth bait.” I suppose this is the origin of the myth that beef jerky contains earthworms.

Misinformation and Disinformation’s Impact on Brand

This misinformed concept regarding Slim Jim remains in circulation today. If you search on Google for erythorbate, you’ll see a “People also ask” result: “Is Erythorbate a worm?”

This leads you to an advisory from the USDA that confirms its origins (it’s highly-refined, according to the USDA, and is closely related to vitamin C) and also states in plain English: Erythorbate is NOT earthworms. They get phone calls to their hotline. 

This is an example of simple misinformation spreading somewhat innocently. We’ve heard a lot about mis- and disinformation and bad actors during recent elections, ongoing political feuds around Covid-19 and during congressional hearings when certain social media executives claim to be tamping it down. 

What’s the Difference Between Misinformation and Disinformation?

It is important to clarify that misinformation and disinformation are different things. 

Misinformation, as I noted, is generally spread without malice or intent. Disinformation, on the other hand, is generally organized and has a specific outcome in mind. 

For example, if someone started an anti-beef-jerky coalition they might benefit from spreading the false fact that beef jerky contains earthworms. There is not, to my knowledge, a coalition of this nature behind the aforementioned falsism. 

This distinction is subtle but important. It’s highly likely that your brand or organization will find itself in the midst of misinformation from time to time. It’s also increasingly probable that you could be in the crosshairs of a disinformation campaign, too. 

A September 2021 study by the Network Contagion Research Institute found that disinformation is increasingly being used against brands of all types.

Be Prepared to Protect Your Brand

How should you prepare for and respond to misinformation and disinformation when you see it?

1. Always be listening.

Active social media listening is the best way to detect false information before it catches on. This is a baseline activity and its benefits reach far beyond identifying potential misinformation.

Look at the data carefully to examine for common language in comments or user-generated posts. Also look broadly at posts your community managers are responding to and search for comments that might be otherwise overlooked in day-to-day community management (particularly if your team is large or the duty for responding rotates among different humans).

2. Create your brand interactions carefully.

Brands themselves sometimes contribute to a sense of confusion. Be extra clear about things that could cause confusion (like deals or things that have limited availability). 

Also consider how you phrase Tweets and messages, especially if your brand is prone to phrasing things as a question. There are times when asking a question sparks community engagement. But it’s not always necessary. NPR, citing Betteridge’s Law, actually trains journalists to generally avoid it. 

3. Correct the record.

If you encounter false information it’s important to answer it with truth and link to a source where readers can further verify if they so choose. It is also important to do this promptly.

4. Context matters.

If it is clear from a customer’s message that they are using your product or service and have encountered something that sparks a question, it’s probably not misinformation. 

Which brings me to my final point…

5. Consider the source.

If someone shows up in your feed for the first time with clearly false information, take a moment to look at their other posts. Check to see if they’re a prospect or customer. If not, it is possible it may be a troll out to spread bad information about you.

via What Brands Need to Know About Misinformation and Disinformation

 

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Stop Recommending Impossible SEO Content Strategies. Do This Instead.

Years ago, I worked with a sales coach who insisted that I was selling my services all wrong.

She’d get on the phone with my prospects and tell them how their “site looked outdated,” their entire site suffered from sub-par content, and every page needed a rewrite.

Oh, and a redesign too.

At one point, she told a small-business prospect that his budget for writing services was “insulting” and way too low. But, of course, the poor prospect had a hard enough time trying to scrape together 5K for writing services…so my consultant’s quote of 20K was way out of his budget.

(This was the final straw and I fired her the next day.)

The thing is, my consultant wasn’t necessarily wrong. Often, the entire site’s content did suck. And many designs were terrible. 

But forcing the client to eat the entire content enchilada RIGHT NOW — when all he wanted was just a couple bites — was enough to mess up the sale. 

She was dictating a strategy that the client couldn’t implement — not right away.

And that’s the problem.

I’ve been chewing over the statistic that 56% of SEOs say their suggestions get implemented less than 40% of the time.

Ouch.

On the one hand, it’s easy to blame the end client. We’ve all had the client or boss who gives excellent lip service to our brilliant ideas — and then refuses to implement them.

Maybe because it’s “not the right time” or because the company is in a busy period. Bottom-line, nothing happens, and the suggestions go nowhere.

But then, Ammon Johns, a colleague and one of the original SEO folks in the industry, said something interesting on Facebook.

Ammon’s take on the statistic: SEOs suggest strategies that companies can’t implement for whatever reason. It’s not because they don’t want to change their process. It’s that they need a slower runway to make it happen.

We’re giving our clients (and prospects) a pie-in-the-sky, best-case strategy scenario…when what they need is something more baby-stepped and easier to implement.

For instance, these SEO writing suggestions may overwhelm your client

  • Suggesting a client increase their blogging frequency to twice a week when the client is already time-crunched.
  • Advising the client to make a massive investment in SEO content services immediately rather than spreading the work over time.
  • Telling the client that what they want will take more work than they bargained for — for instance, they’ll need a redesign AND a content strategy, AND every page needs a rewrite.

Sure, the content and strategy suggestions may be on point. After all, sometimes, it makes more sense to do a lot of the work immediately. And some site designs do look outdated and have horrible usability.

But if you hit your client (or prospect) with everything at once, you run the risk of the client not implementing your suggestions.

(And guess who the client will blame when they aren’t getting the results they want. Even if they only implemented 10 percent of your suggestions.) 

Or, in the case of selling your services, overwhelming your prospect with ideas that she can’t implement may mean you lose the gig. She’ll take one look at your proposal and think, “This is way more than I bargained for right now. I don’t have the funds/time/brainpower for this.”

Even if she agrees with your recommendations. 

It’s tricky.

You have to meet your SEO writing clients where they are.

That may mean suggesting a fraction of the actual workload now — and explaining a baby-step process that can help get everything done on a longer timeline.

That may mean suggesting a low-budget thing to get your foot in the door — and using that project to sell your skills.

Or sometimes, it means thinking super-creatively to help your client meet their SEO writing goals. For instance, video is fantastic for teams with subject-matter experts who hate to write — but they don’t mind being on-camera for five minutes.

You can take that video (and the transcript) and transform yourself into a content repurposing hero.  

It’s OK to baby-step your content campaign and get things done super slowly. What’s not OK is suggesting deliverables and timelines that aren’t possible for your client/team to implement.

That’s a setup for learned helplessness (why can’t we ever master SEO?), poor results, and resentment. If you’re freelancing, it means lost sales.

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

via Stop Recommending Impossible SEO Content Strategies. Do This Instead.

 

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Are Inbound Marketing and Content Marketing Still Different in 2021?

For the first time in a long time, I was asked what the difference is between inbound marketing and content marketing. My answer wasn’t as up-to-date as it could have been, so I did a little digging.

Gather round friends, it’s been a hot minute since we’ve talked about inbound marketing.

Almost exactly 10 years ago, my pal and CMI founder Joe Pulizzi wrote an article, Inbound Marketing Isn’t Enough. I was credited as a co-writer. Truth be told, we were on a bit of a rant then about the misperceptions of the content marketing approach.

@Robert_Rose went on a rant 10 years ago about #Inbound vs. #ContentMarketing. Here’s where he stands today via @CMIContent.Click To Tweet

At the time, “inbound marketing”, a term coined and popularized, by software provider HubSpot was transforming the marketing industry (with all due credit). Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah identified the transformational power of internet search and social media as a sea change in the way that changed outbound, direct marketing into a more pull-oriented function.

But in 2011, some of the folks there decided that they should attempt to redefine the term “content marketing” as they looked to reposition inbound marketing as something more strategic and higher level.

Well, to paraphrase The Dude from The Big Lebowski, we didn’t abide.

To be clear, neither Joe nor I opposed the company redefining the practice of inbound marketing. Of course, as the inventors of that methodology, they had every right (dare I say, responsibility) to do exactly that. It was the mischaracterization of content marketing that sent Joe and me into our rant – and that 2011 article was the result.

Now, comes the part where the music changes and the overlay on the movie screen appears: 10 years later …

The state of inbound marketing

Truth be told, before I answered my colleague’s question, and started this article, I had to dig to understand the current state of inbound marketing. If I’m completely honest, I hadn’t heard much about it from my clients, which tend to be larger, more global organizations. It wasn’t on my radar.

A quick review of Google Trends seems to align with my experience. It shows the comparison of interest between the terms of inbound marketing (blue line) and content marketing (red line).

@GoogleTrends indicate less interest in #InboundMarketing and greater interest in #ContentMarketing over the decade via @Robert_Rose @CMIContent.Click To Tweet

Ten years ago, both terms were on comparable interest levels. Since then, the term content marketing has seen growing interest; inbound marketing has remained relatively static. Our 2022 research supports this: Content marketing has become more prioritized in an end-of-the-pandemic world.

A perceived difference between the two practices certainly appears from this data. But what is it?

Well, for what it’s worth, my take involves HubSpot’s concerted evolution (and perhaps some de-emphasis) of the term as it expanded its product suite. Put simply, as HubSpot launched everything from advertising campaign management, Salesforce automation, help desk applications, content management, and customer service, HubSpot no longer was just a tool to help with top-of-the-funnel lead generation. It is a full-on CRM suite, competing with many other enterprise marketing clouds. It only makes sense that their definition of inbound would evolve and be broader.

Inbound marketing has evolved from its original description in the seminal 2009 book of the same name by HubSpot’s Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shaw. They observed traditional outbound marketing and sales being replaced by a buyer’s search online. Pulling those buyers into a website content “hub” was the key.

As was stated in the book, inbound marketing was “about getting found online, through search engines and on sites like Facebook and YouTube and Twitter …”

Now, in 2021, HubSpot has updated its definition:

Inbound marketing is a business methodology that attracts customers by creating valuable content and experiences tailored to them.

@HubSpot has expanded its definition of #InboundMarketing to something that sounds a whole lot like #ContentMarketing, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent.Click To Tweet

Well, that sounds a whole lot like CMI’s definition of content marketing.

But does it? Is there a difference?

The state of content marketing

No doubt, content marketing as a practice has evolved over the last decade as well.

To this day, we still define content marketing as “a strategic marketing approach of creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

But, again, that sounds almost exactly like how HubSpot now defines inbound, which is quite honestly even a bit more succinct.

We have always taught that content marketing was, in many ways, about a marketing practice within products and services companies operating more like a media company. And like a media company, we’ve asserted that building a subscribed, addressable audience is different than assembling a marketing database. While that objective wasn’t in our original definition – it has certainly evolved to be a core objective and differentiator for the practice.

As early as 2011, when Joe and I published Managing Content Marketing, we said that the “job of marketing is no longer to create customers, it is to create passionate subscribers to our brand.” In hindsight, I regret the hyperbole there – and the subtle diss of Peter Drucker. If I were to rewrite that sentence today, I’d say, “The job of marketing is to create customers and create passionate subscribers to our brand.”

In that sentence, we can see the trend of audience-building evolving and focusing on the practice of content marketing. Simultaneously, it also separates content marketing from the current incarnation of inbound marketing.

Put simply: The job of marketing in today’s more expansive, multi-channel, digitally transformed world is to create customers AND create audiences that subscribe to your brand. Both can create wealth for the business.

Difference in the content and its purpose

Further down in HubSpot’s methodology for inbound marketing, they cite examples of the inbound “flywheel” – attracting strangers, engaging prospects, and delighting customers and promoters. They say:

To reach your audience, start by creating and publishing content such as blog articles, content offers, and social media – that provide value. Examples include guides on how to use your products, information about how your solution can solve their challenges, customer testimonials, and details about promotions or discounts.

They say the inbound marketer’s goal is to: “attract new prospects to your company, engage with them at scale, and delight them individually.”

That’s perfectly clear to me. The purpose of inbound has become to facilitate optimized marketing and sales – and, as Drucker said, create a customer.

In other words, as an inbound marketer, you deliver content to help a buyer buy something. It is content that speaks to your brand, your product, your service, and continually engenders trust in those things so that you acquire, keep, or grow customers.

Content marketing is, indeed, different. It’s not better than. It’s not worse than. It’s complementary to inbound marketing. As we’ve said many, many times, content marketing is a multiplier to traditional marketing and advertising. Content marketing:

It’s all just marketing

My favorite marketing definition is from Philip Kotler who said the practice is “the science and art of exploring, creating, and delivering value to satisfy the needs of a target market at a profit.”

That’s the perfect definition. It fits both inbound and content as a qualifier.

If I were to put my answer on a really, really long bumper sticker or in tiny print on a T-shirt, here’s what it would be:

Inbound is a modernized approach to marketing designed to use content across the buyer’s journey to transform prospects into loyal customers.

Content marketing is an approach to marketing designed to use content across the customer’s journey to transform engaged, subscribed audiences into a differentiating business asset.

They work side by side, hand in glove, together as part of the integrated marketing mix. They simply differ in the kind of content that is created, and how that content (and its impact on audiences) creates wealth for the business.

Side note: I purposely used “customer” over “audience” in this definition. Customers are both buyers of our products and services and audiences who engage with brands, recommend them, etc. I explain it more in this article.

For years, both practitioners of inbound marketing and content marketing have been guessing that at some point the terms may not matter. Conventional wisdom is that both practices would just be considered “good marketing.”

It may be that HubSpot’s evolution of inbound marketing into a broader practice has been successful; so successful in fact that it’s simply become the modern methodology for what we old-timers used to call “direct marketing.”

I will argue, however, that content marketing remains a still evolving practice in marketing departments everywhere. As we see media operations become embedded into marketing departments, monetizing audiences in ways beyond simply “creating a customer” is still a new muscle.

Owned media audiences are no doubt becoming a strategic move for organizations. We see:

We see organic builds such as:

A movement is afoot that goes beyond marketing strategy simply being a way to facilitate a buying journey.

In 2021, marketing is expansive, ever-more important. Both inbound marketing and content marketing are incredibly important. Or, as my friend Joe, wrote 10 years ago:

via Are Inbound Marketing and Content Marketing Still Different in 2021?

 

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Stop Recommending Impossible SEO Content Strategies. Do This Instead.

Stop Recommending Impossible SEO Content Strategies. Do This Instead.

Years ago, I worked with a sales coach who insisted that I was selling my services all wrong.

She’d get on the phone with my prospects and tell them how their “site looked outdated,” their entire site suffered from sub-par content, and every page needed a rewrite.

Oh, and a redesign too.

At one point, she told a small-business prospect that his budget for writing services was “insulting” and way too low. But, of course, the poor prospect had a hard enough time trying to scrape together 5K for writing services…so my consultant’s quote of 20K was way out of his budget.

(This was the final straw and I fired her the next day.)

The thing is, my consultant wasn’t necessarily wrong. Often, the entire site’s content did suck. And many designs were terrible. 

But forcing the client to eat the entire content enchilada RIGHT NOW — when all he wanted was just a couple bites — was enough to mess up the sale. 

She was dictating a strategy that the client couldn’t implement — not right away.

And that’s the problem.

I’ve been chewing over the statistic that 56% of SEOs say their suggestions get implemented less than 40% of the time.

Ouch.

On the one hand, it’s easy to blame the end client. We’ve all had the client or boss who gives excellent lip service to our brilliant ideas — and then refuses to implement them.

Maybe because it’s “not the right time” or because the company is in a busy period. Bottom-line, nothing happens, and the suggestions go nowhere.

But then, Ammon Johns, a colleague and one of the original SEO folks in the industry, said something interesting on Facebook.

Ammon’s take on the statistic: SEOs suggest strategies that companies can’t implement for whatever reason. It’s not because they don’t want to change their process. It’s that they need a slower runway to make it happen.

We’re giving our clients (and prospects) a pie-in-the-sky, best-case strategy scenario…when what they need is something more baby-stepped and easier to implement.

For instance, these SEO writing suggestions may overwhelm your client

  • Suggesting a client increase their blogging frequency to twice a week when the client is already time-crunched.
  • Advising the client to make a massive investment in SEO content services immediately rather than spreading the work over time.
  • Telling the client that what they want will take more work than they bargained for — for instance, they’ll need a redesign AND a content strategy, AND every page needs a rewrite.

Sure, the content and strategy suggestions may be on point. After all, sometimes, it makes more sense to do a lot of the work immediately. And some site designs do look outdated and have horrible usability.

But if you hit your client (or prospect) with everything at once, you run the risk of the client not implementing your suggestions.

(And guess who the client will blame when they aren’t getting the results they want. Even if they only implemented 10 percent of your suggestions.) 

Or, in the case of selling your services, overwhelming your prospect with ideas that she can’t implement may mean you lose the gig. She’ll take one look at your proposal and think, “This is way more than I bargained for right now. I don’t have the funds/time/brainpower for this.”

Even if she agrees with your recommendations. 

It’s tricky.

You have to meet your SEO writing clients where they are.

That may mean suggesting a fraction of the actual workload now — and explaining a baby-step process that can help get everything done on a longer timeline.

That may mean suggesting a low-budget thing to get your foot in the door — and using that project to sell your skills.

Or sometimes, it means thinking super-creatively to help your client meet their SEO writing goals. For instance, video is fantastic for teams with subject-matter experts who hate to write — but they don’t mind being on-camera for five minutes.

You can take that video (and the transcript) and transform yourself into a content repurposing hero.  

It’s OK to baby-step your content campaign and get things done super slowly. What’s not OK is suggesting deliverables and timelines that aren’t possible for your client/team to implement.

That’s a setup for learned helplessness (why can’t we ever master SEO?), poor results, and resentment. If you’re freelancing, it means lost sales.

Ain’t nobody got time for that.

via Stop Recommending Impossible SEO Content Strategies. Do This Instead.

How to Write For Google

Are you writing your SEO content based on the latest best practice tips?

I originally wrote this SEO copywriting checklist in 2012—my, how things have changed. Today, Google stresses quality content even more than before, conversational copy is critical, and there are revised SEO writing “rules.” 

I’ve updated the list to reflect these changes and to provide additional information.

As a side note, I would argue that there’s no such thing as “writing for Google.” Yes, there are certain things you should do to make the Google gods happy. However, your most important goal should be writing clear, compelling, standout copy that tells a story. 

I’m keeping the old headline in the hopes that I can convert some of the “write for Google” people to do things the right way.

Whether you’re an in-house SEO content writer, a DIY business owner, or a freelance SEO copywriter, this 27-point checklist will help you write engaging, Google-happy content—every time.

Items to review before you start your SEO writing project

 

– Do you have enough information about your target reader?

Your copy will pack a powerful one-two punch if your content is laser-focused on your target reader. Ask your client or supervisor for a customer/reader persona document outlining your target readers’ specific characteristics. If the client doesn’t have a customer persona document, be prepared to spend an hour or more asking detailed questions. 

Here’s more information on customer personas.

 

– Writing a sales page? Did you interview the client?

It’s essential to interview new clients and to learn more about their company, USP, and competition. Don’t forget to ask about industry buzzwords that should appear in the content.

Not sure what questions to ask to get the copywriting ball rolling? Here’s a list of 56 questions you can start with today. 

 

– Writing a blog post? Get topic ideas from smart sources

When you’re blogging, it’s tempting to write about whatever strikes your fancy. The challenge is, what interests you may not interest your readers. If you want to make sure you’re writing must-read content, sites like Quora, LinkedIn, Google Trends, and BuzzSumo can help spark some ideas.

 

– Did you use Google for competitive intelligence ideas?

Check out the sites positioning in the top-10 and look for common characteristics. How long are competing articles? Do the articles link out to authoritative sources? Are there videos or infographics? Do the articles include quotes from industry experts? Your job is to write an essay that’s better than what’s already appearing in the top-10 — so let the competition be your guide.

 

– Did you conduct keyphrase research?

Yes, keyphrase research (and content optimization) is still a crucial SEO step. If you don’t give Google some keyphrase “cues,” your page probably won’t position the way you want.

Use a keyphrase research tool and find possible keyphrases for your page or post. As a hint: if you are tightly focusing on a topic, long-tail keyphrases are your best bet. Here’s more information about why long-tail keyphrases are so important.

If you are researching B2B keyphrases, know that the “traditional” keyphrase research steps may not apply. Here’s more information about what to do if B2B keyphrase research doesn’t work.

 

– What is your per-page keyphrase focus?

Writers are no longer forced to include the exact-match keyphrase over and over again. (Hurray!) Today, we can focus on a keyphrase theme that matches the search intent and weave in multiple related keyphrases.

 

– Did you expand your keyphrase research to include synonyms and close variants?

Don’t be afraid to include keyphrase synonyms and close variants on your page. Doing so opens up your positioning opportunities, makes your copy better, and is much easier to write!

Are you wondering if you should include your keyphrases as you write the copy — or edit them in later? It’s up to you! Here are the pros and cons of both processes.

 

 — Do your keyphrases match the search intent?

Remember that Google is “the decider” when it comes to search intent. If you’re writing a sales page — and your desired keyphrase pulls up informational blog posts in Google – your sales page probably won’t position. 

 

— Writing a blog post? Does your Title/headline work for SEO, social, and your readers?

Yes, you want your headline to be compelling, but you also want it to be keyphrase rich. Always include your main page keyphrase (or a close variant) in your Title and work in other keyphrases if they “fit.”

Here’s some excellent information on how to write headlines that get noticed (and that are good for Google.) You can also use headline-analyzing tools to double-check your work.

 

– Did you include keyphrase-rich subheadlines?

Subheadlines are an excellent way to visually break up your text, making it easy for readers to quick-scan your benefits and information. Additionally, just like with the H1 headline, adding a keyphrase to your subheadlines can (slightly) help reinforce keyphrase relevancy.

As a hint, sometimes, you can write a question-oriented subheadline and slip the keyphrase in more easily. Here’s more information about why answering questions is a powerful SEO content play.

 

Is your Title “clickable” and compelling?

Remember, the search engine results page is your first opportunity for conversion. Focusing too much on what you think Google “wants” may take away your Title’s conversion power. 

Consider how you can create an enticing Title that “gets the click” over the other search result listings. You have about 59 characters (with spaces) to work with, so writing tight is essential. 

 

– Does the meta description fit the intent of the page?

Yes, writers should create a meta description for every page. Why? Because they tell the reader what the landing page is about and help increase SERP conversions. Try experimenting with different calls-to-actions at the end, such as “learn more” or “apply now.” You never know what will entice your readers to click!

 

– Is your content written in a conversational style?

With voice search gaining prominence, copy that’s written in a conversational style is even more critical.

Read your copy out loud and hear how it sounds. Does it flow? Or does it sound too formal? If you’re writing for a regulated industry, such as finance, legal, or healthcare, you may not be able to push the conversational envelope too much. Otherwise, write like you talk.

Here’s how to explain why conversational content is so important.

 

–Is your copy laser-focused on your audience?

A big mistake some writers make is creating copy that appeals to “everyone” rather than their specific target reader. Writing sales and blog pages that are laser-focused on your audience will boost your conversions and keep readers checking out your copy longer. Here’s how one company does it.

Plus, you don’t receive special “Google points” for writing long content. Even short copy can position if it fully answers the searcher’s query. Your readers don’t want to wade through 1,500 words to find something that can be explained in 300 words.

Items to review after you’ve written the page

 

– Did you use too many keyphrases?

Remember, there is no such thing as keyword density. If your content sounds keyphrase-heavy and stilted, reduce the keyphrase usage and focus more on your readers’ experience. Your page doesn’t receive bonus points for exact-matching your keyphrase multiple times. If your page sounds keyphrase stuffed when you read it out loud, dial back your keyphrase usage.

 

– Did you edit your content?

Resist the urge to upload your content as soon as you write it. Put it away and come back to it after a few hours (or even the next day.) Discover why editing your Web writing is so very important. Also, don’t think that adding typos will help your page position. They won’t.

 

– Is the content interesting to read?

Yes, it’s OK if your copy has a little personality. Here’s more information about working with your page’s tone and feel and how to avoid the “yawn response.” Plus, know that even FAQ pages can help with conversions — and yes, even position.

 

– Are your sentences and paragraphs easy to read?

Vary your sentence structure so you have a combination of longer and shorter sentences. If you find your sentences creeping over 30 or so words, edit them down and make them punchier. Your writing will have more impact if you do.

Plus, long paragraphs without much white space are hard to read off a computer monitor – and even harder to read on a smartphone. Split up your long paragraphs into shorter ones. Please.

 

– Are you forcing your reader onto a “dead end” page?

“Dead-end” pages (pages that don’t link out to related pages) can stop your readers dead in their tracks and hurt your conversion goals. 

Want to avoid this? Read more about “dead-end” Web pages.

 

– Does the content provide the reader with valuable information?

Google warns against sites with “thin,” low-quality content that’s poorly written. In fact, according to Google, spelling errors are a bigger boo-boo than broken HTML. Make sure your final draft is typo-free, written well, and thoroughly answers the searcher’s query.

Want to know what Google considers quality content — directly from Google? Here are Google’s Quality Raters guidelines for more information.

 

– Did you use bullet points where appropriate?

If you find yourself writing a list-like sentence, use bullet points instead. Your readers will thank you, and the items will be much easier to read.

Plus, you can write your bullet points in a way that makes your benefit statements pop, front and center. Here’s how Nike does it.

 

– Is the primary CTA (call-to-action) clear–and is it easy to take action?

What action do you want your readers to take? Do you want them to contact you? Buy something? Sign up for your newsletter? Make sure you’re telling your reader what you want them to do, and make taking action easy. If you force people to answer multiple questions just to fill out a “contact us” form, you run the risk of people bailing out.

Here’s a list of seven CTA techniques that work.

 

– Do you have a secondary CTA (such as a newsletter signup or downloading a white paper?)

Do you want readers to sign up for your newsletter or learn about related products? Don’t bury your “sign up for our newsletter” button in the footer text. Instead, test different CTA locations (for instance, try including a newsletter signup link at the bottom of every blog post) and see where you get the most conversions.

 

– Does the page include too many choices?

It’s important to keep your reader focused on your primary and secondary CTAs. If your page lists too many choices (for example, a large, scrolling page of products), consider eliminating all “unnecessary” options that don’t support your primary call-to-action. Too many choices may force your readers into not taking any action at all.

 

– Did you include benefit statements?

People make purchase decisions based on what’s in it for them (yes, even your B2B buyers.) Highly specific benefit statements will help your page convert like crazy. Don’t forget to include a benefit statement in your Title (whenever possible) like “free shipping” or “sale.” Seeing this on the search results page will catch your readers’ eyes, tempting them to click the link and check out your site.

 

– Do you have vertical-specific testimonials?

It’s incredible how many great sales pages are testimonial-free. Testimonials are a must for any site, as they offer third-party proof that your product or service is superior. Plus, your testimonials can help you write better, more benefit-driven sales pages and fantastic comparison-review pages.

Here’s a way to make your testimonials more powerful. 

And finally — the most important question:

 

– Does your content stand out and genuinely deserve a top position?

SEO writing is more than shoving keyphrases into the content. If you want to be rewarded by Google (and your readers), your content must stand out — not be a carbon copy of the current top-10 results. Take a hard look at your content and compare it against what’s currently positioning. Have you fully answered the searcher’s query? Did you weave in other value-added resources, such as expert quotes, links to external and internal resources (such as FAQ pages), videos, and graphics? 

If so, congratulations! You’ve done your job. 

via [Updated for 2021] 27-Point Checklist: How to Write for Google

 

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