Content Marketing Experts Reveal Which Brands are Pushing the Envelope

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A lot of brands are embracing the power of content marketing. Red Bull, Kraft, GE, Caterpillar are familiar names in the land of enterprise content marketing, but dozens of other brands are doing great work, too.

As Vertical Measures CEO Arnie Kuenn explains, “There are a lot of brands out there that have done big content things – Chipotle comes to mind. There are also less flashy, but just as successful brands that may not get a ton of news headlines, but consistently create useful, helpful content that has transformed their business.”

We wanted to hear which brands are inspiring today’s leading content marketing experts so we asked the speakers and friends who will share their insight at Content Marketing World 2015: What brands excel at creating content that pushes the envelope on what can be accomplished with content marketing?

Their responses run the gamut, from familiar brand names to little-known companies thriving in a unique niche – but every one offers an inspiration no matter the size of your content marketing team.

Take a big bite

I love Taco Bell. But let me clarify – it’s not the nachos that hook me. It’s the engaging, quirky, and fun online content. Just take a look at the myriad bright colors featured in the reel of photographs on its Instagram account. This immediately captures my attention.

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Plus, Taco Bell’s amusing, tongue-in-cheek voice is so compelling that its personality totally outweighs its product (which is great because that’s a far less-fattening way to indulge in the brand). Best of all, the online content exudes passion and positive energy, which makes the visuals, text, and messages they share easy to connect with.

Taco Bell dares to be different. Go check out the online content. And while you’re at it, can you please grab me a burrito?

Jordan Borensztajn, social media trainer, Social Needia | @JordanaOZ

Go beyond boundaries

The storytelling platform Maptia has built a powerful community in an incredibly competitive and tough space, but has managed to put together some of the best experiential travel content on the web. It’s particularly remarkable because Maptia does it through user-generated and submitted works at a time when everyone in that world is competing for those content creators.

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I think the lesson is that relationship building, slow-and-steady progress, an extremely high-quality bar, and remarkable work can be advantages rather than the disadvantages they’re often perceived to be in the fast-paced, startup-style, growth-hacking mentalities.

Rand Fishkin, co-author, Art of SEO; co-founder, Inbound.org and Moz | @randfish

Make mundane attractive

Dollar Shave Club leaps to mind because every touchpoint is fun. Do I look forward to grooming? Hell no. But I definitely look forward to Dollar Shave Club’s next video, post, social media update, email, and especially their packaging.

When you make the mundane insanely exciting, you make people smile. Joy may be hard to measure by way of marketing metrics, but it’s the universal spark of the spender.

Sadly, though some B2B marketers push (or at least deliver) the envelope, it’s awfully rare they bring a sense of humor to bear. I’d sure like to see it though.

Barry Feldman, founder, Feldman Creative | @FeldmanCreative

Be bold and helpful

Neil Patel and his team at QuickSprout are just doing an amazing job of providing content so useful that I can’t stand it, such as Stop Guessing: Here’s a Social Media Strategy That Works and another post about 22 Gmail plug-ins.

I also love what Doug Kessler has been doing at Velocity with the manifestos and calls-to-arms about crap content, and the search for meaning. They are making bold statements with well-designed and super-thoughtful pieces of content. I realize both of these examples are very “meta” (content marketing about content marketing) but they are really great.

Michael Brenner, head of strategy, NewsCred | @BrennerMichael

Bottle it up

I’m in love with what Coke is doing with its bottle these days. It’s a perfect expression of the brand in a cultural moment – whether using all of the Mad Men main character names on the bottles or making rainbow-colored bottles to highlight the landmark Supreme Court same-sex marriage ruling. Coke is inserting itself in the zeitgeist in a way that is absolutely undeniably on-brand. Open Happiness, indeed.

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Image source

Julie Fleischer, director, data + content + media, Kraft Foods | @jfly

Disrupt longstanding brands

We’re really interested in what brands like JackThreads, Wayfair, and NET-A-PORTER are doing to combine the content and shopping experience. The integration of the experiential and editorial with a product, service, or some form of commerce is becoming a really effective mix that has the potential to drive a lot of disruption in many categories where incumbent brands have historically set the rules.

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It’s not simply that these companies are creating really good content, it’s that they’re learning to master and integrate two marketing systems – one focused on marketing products or services, and the other focused on marketing content. These companies are paving the way of how marketers establish more intimate relationships with niche lifestyle audiences, which has the very real potential of transforming the marketing landscape.

David Germano, vice president, Magnetic Content Studios | @david_germano

Tie the strings together

In my home life, I’m a DIYer at heart, and I find that Home Depot’s Apron Blog successfully speaks to me on a lot of levels, offering a mix of step-by-steps and recommendations without overtly selling me on this hammer or that pitchfork. The blog is written for me – an unskilled laborer who frequently bites off more than he can chew – and solves a lot of problems for me.

Joey Hall, vice president of content marketing, EnVeritas Group | @JKHallJr

Brew it up

I’m not even sure if Starbucks has a content marketing program – and if it does, it is so much a part of the brand that you don’t notice it. In my opinion, the best content delivered is that which the end user doesn’t see as content, but as a relatable interaction with the brand.

John Hunt, senior manager digital marketing corporate communications & content, Smead Manufacturing | @Smead_JohnH

Blur the lines

In the publishing space, Refinery29 and Apartment Therapy do a great job at being visually appealing without being flashy. And their content is excellent. Sometimes, it’s hard to distinguish between Refinery29’s editorial content and its branded content, meaning that they’re both equally engaging.

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Apartment Therapy is the master of curating user-generated content, which is an underutilized marketing tool. Readers love authenticity, and what’s more authentic than publishing real people’s content?

Sachin Kamdar, CEO & co-founder, Parse.ly | @SachinKamdar

Grab the hub and spoke

Yale Appliance, an everyday Boston appliance company, has driven more leads, revenue, and profitability with its content marketing. It follows a hub-and-spoke model of content creation – developing buying-guide hubs for all its major appliances and connecting them via spokes to comparisons, articles, reviews, videos, and more.

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This model can be replicated in any industry, in any size business. It takes an integrated strategy based on providing useful content that people need. This isn’t a quick win strategy – it’s a commitment to creating a culture of content marketing and sticking with it for the long run. It’s been proven again and again that this strategy truly works to drive results.

Arnie Kuenn, CEO, Vertical Measures | @ArnieK

Make sequence personal

With over 4,500 potential offerings for its audience, Illumina runs a huge risk of overloading customers with content and losing them in the process. To get around that challenge, the genetic-sequencing innovator has developed a tool that asks website visitors about their research project. It then automatically assembles a single, custom document for each visitor with relevant content based on the visitor’s responses. Why is this so good? It creates a great user experience that allows the audience to access content customized for them. And it helps Illumina save hundreds of thousands of dollars in localization and printing costs.

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Steve Rotter, chief marketing officer, Acrolinx | @sjrotter

Want to learn more from these and other experts? Register today for Content Marketing World this September in Cleveland. Use the code “Summer” this week to save $200.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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5 Ways to Make Every Moment a Content Opportunity

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Interesting and relevant topic ideas don’t always need to come from a team brainstorming meeting, a mind-mapping exercise, or a focused research session. As I always say in content marketing workshops I teach: “Every  moment is a content opportunity.” You just need to open up your eyes and know where to look.

To be clear, this thinking doesn’t assume the unrealistic mindset of optimism where you repeat, “I think I can, I think I can,” to convince yourself you have something when you’re really grasping at straws. Instead, you must grow your perspective as a content creator, as a marketer, and as a human to see the diamonds hidden in the rough.

If you’re passionate about what you do, this shouldn’t come as a hard task. You, like me, are probably constantly reading articles in your niche, scoping the competition, having conversations about your work, talking with customers, and generally being interested in what you do. Some of the best content ideas I’ve discovered have come out of seemingly disparate life experiences to my marketing industry – taking a yoga class, reading a design blog, volunteering, conversing with friends, and on and on.

Drawing from these places not only makes my time sitting down to create content easier, but the content becomes much more rich and interesting for someone consuming it. Why? Because the idea and the content are born out of my direct experience and I can speak intelligently on something that resonates with me. People are attracted naturally.

Let’s look at five sources that can help you shift your mindset to find content opportunities anywhere at anytime. Keep in mind, this is a way to expand your “content awareness” and uncover new opportunities with relatively little effort (and who doesn’t like that?).

1. Your colleagues

Whether you work in an office or remotely, you collaborate with someone, somehow. Why not use every interaction to dig for content topics? Look for trends, reoccurrences, questions that need answering, and gaps that need filling; that’s where good content lives. Use these questions as prompts:

  • What is a common theme I keep hearing in meetings?
  • How can I make a certain process, system, or product better?
  • What are some interesting stories I heard throughout the day?
  • What’s the theme of our company meeting? Why is that important?
  • What is our latest company news?

Tip: You’re not the only one who will have lightning-bolt moments. Make it easy for yourself and your team by setting up an email account such as “content@yourdomain.com” where anyone can send content ideas as they arise.

2. Your customers

Your customers are huge beacons of topic ideas because they possess direct insight into the heart of your business. They’re most likely asking you questions all the time about your business/product/service, so use that engagement. Here are three prompts that will help you start to notice customer-derived content opportunities:

  • What questions do I get asked all the time?
  • Why do I get asked those questions?
  • How can I give better answers to the questions?

Tip: Nobody is better at answering questions and overcoming objections than your sales team members. The Sent folder of their email account is your gold mine. You’ll find mini blog posts in there just itching to be published … this is what I call “content magic.”

3. Your industry

Most marketers have a good pulse on their industry because they have to keep ahead of the curve. Use this to your advantage and see what can inspire you among the things in which you’re already taking part. You never know where the next idea will come from:

  • Magazines
  • Industry blogs and websites
  • Competitors
  • Events and conferences

Tip: Set up Google Alerts for mentions of key phrases that would be relevant or even peripheral to your business. You never know when something may spark your mind. These alerts are timely and come straight to your Inbox. You also can monitor social media with tools like Social Mention or Topsy.

4. Your personal life

There’s no division of church and state when it comes to content marketing. Topics can be found everywhere — even in your personal life. Some of the most powerful pieces of content can marry the business aspect of things with a personal narrative. Always be on the lookout for road signs that may point to content ideas from conversations, experiences, or shifts in your own internal landscape.

Tip: Your content ideas don’t need to be literal. Usually they come from inspiration. For example, I’ve been personally interested in productivity and making small improvements for big impact that compound over time, and I ended up writing a piece on how that perspective can intersect with content marketing. Look for the tangential connections with your life and content, and you may be surprised the connections you can make.

5. The stuff you wouldn’t expect

This is the one category in which you can’t really look because you never know where content inspiration will strike. Right now, I’m creating a piece about guacamole … for a content marketing blog. It doesn’t sound like it would make sense, but I saw something about guacamole and I ran with it as the foundation for my piece. Keep your mind open and you never know what you may stumble upon.

guacamole-teach-content-marketing

Make plans today to find inspiration for your content from the speakers, including keynote presenter John Cleese, and thousands of participants at Content Marketing World in Cleveland this September. Register today.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Please note:  All tools included in our blog posts are suggested by authors, not the CMI editorial team.  No one post can provide all relevant tools in the space. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used).

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5 Ways to Extend Your Blog’s Reach and Grow Your Audience

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You may not be a superstar with a giant audience. So how can a person with a relatively small following generate big buzz over a new post? Follow these five tips.

1. Choose links carefully

While you’re adding value to your post, why not choose links that boost your reach? Look for quality posts about related subjects written by people who are likely to share your post. Excellent link choices:

  • Are written by active promoters or hosted on sites with active social media teams
  • Add value to your post
  • Are hosted on high-quality blogs with related focus to your host blog

How does this help extend your reach? Promoters promote. Let people and sites know you have mentioned them in your post, and they will amplify your content marketing (you don’t even have to ask). You can add their reach to your own. It’s a win-win for everybody.

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Quote and photo courtesy of @robinsonwriters, president of Posts by Ghost

Start-ups and small-business blogs are often full of great information your readers want to see and they love the publicity.

2. Use competitive intelligence to choose topics

As marketers, you probably use competitive intelligence to improve your marketing efforts. The same concepts translate easily to blogging and audience building.

With a competitor analysis tool, you can find out what topics and keywords are trending for other bloggers in your industry, what topics are most evergreen (old posts still attracting significant traffic), and who is most engaged with other bloggers. Research can help you find an irresistible headline.

Find new angles for the topics that interest the largest number of people and draw the most comments, and reach out to industry influencers on their favorite social networks. If they are interested enough to share your competitor’s posts, they might be interested enough to interact with you.

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Quote and photo courtesy of @BrittMichaelian, founder of Mass Amplify

3. Work your groups

You can’t just be part of a group. You have to be active and engaged. Join (or start) hashtag chats and professional groups related to the industry about which you’re writing and nurture those relationships. If you’re writing blog posts based on FAQs, the friends you’ve made will discuss the same subjects – and you’ll have perfect opportunities to mention your posts.

You may even have the opportunity to market in advance. “Can I quote you? I’m writing a post about that right now. It’s going to be published in a couple of weeks on ContentMarketingInstitute.com.” And now the whole group wants to read your upcoming article.

A note of caution: Use this tactic judiciously and only if it fits the conversation. If your only purpose in the group is to self-promote, you’ll be ignored … or worse, mocked. Always give more than you ask for. Offer to tweet, introduce friends, proofread, encourage, and bring the bacon. Always bring the bacon.

4. Ask influential people for quotes

No matter who they are, people love to share their wisdom and tell stories. Here’s a great quote and an even better story from Yael Kochman, marketing manager at Roojoom, that perfectly illustrates my point:

A few months ago I set my mind on interviewing Product Hunt’s community manager for the Roojoom blog. I simply reached out to her via Twitter and asked her for the interview. She accepted, and not only did the post turn into a great success, but a few weeks later she mentioned our blog as one of eight marketing blogs to follow in an article she wrote for HubSpot. She wouldn’t have discovered us if I hadn’t reached out to her. It’s all about building relationships and putting yourself out there.

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Quote and photo courtesy of Yael Kochman

5. Create original graphic pull quotes

Why settle for just quoting someone when you can make shareable images in minutes? Canva is free if you use your own images and easy enough to make you look like an expert in minutes.

Creating relevant graphics with quotes from your post encourages more people to share. In addition to the people featured in your graphics, you’ll pull in their fans, people who like the nature of the quote, and even people who appreciate a beautiful graphic.

To really give your post legs, use a WordPress plug-in such as Tweet This to emphasize points from your post. Developer John Morris recently improved the code to make it easier to include graphics. It’s still a manual process, but you won’t regret the effort. Readers will be able to send custom tweets and accompanying graphics from anywhere in your post with just a click.

Always bear in mind that you’re not just promoting a post. You’re building a brand – establishing your reputation as an authority, starting a conversation. Make sure your voice and tone are in line with the brand image and work it. Don’t get discouraged. If you do your homework and write content your audience seeks, your audience will grow.

Want to connect with your fellow content marketing professionals and learn more content distribution strategies? Make plans today to attend Content Marketing World 2015

Cover image by Nicolai Bernsten, Unsplash, via pixabay.com

Please note:  All tools included in our blog posts are suggested by authors, not the CMI editorial team.  No one post can provide all relevant tools in the space. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used).

The post 5 Ways to Extend Your Blog’s Reach and Grow Your Audience appeared first on Content Marketing Institute.

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6 Steps to Content Marketing Domination

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I know, I know. I used one of those link-bait titles. First, I used a number (which, to be honest, almost always performs better than non-numbered posts). Second, I made a big promise – that content marketing domination in an industry category is actually possible.

Well, this post is all about what is possible.

But before I detail the six steps, let me take you back to 2014.

One of my ongoing personal goals is to publish a book every two years. Get Content Get Customers was published in 2009. Managing Content Marketing was in 2011. Epic Content Marketing was published in 2013. So that means, you guessed it, time for a book in 2015.

Selfishly, with this next book, I wanted to tell our CMI story. I wanted to talk about how we built Content Marketing Institute as one of the fastest-growing training and media companies on the planet, and, in the process help teach entrepreneurs, small businesses, and even change agents in large enterprises how to make content marketing work with deep focus and a tight budget.

That was the initial thought behind my 2015 book, Content Inc. (which launches at Content Marketing World in September, but you can pre-order it here). But as we began the interview process for the book, a funny thing happened on the way.

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Reverse engineering

Over the past year, we’ve had the opportunity to interview dozens of the fastest-growing businesses led by entrepreneurs who used a “content-first” business model (more on that in a second). The more we interviewed, the more similarities we found among their business models. Actually, as we analyzed the businesses, we discovered that each followed the same six steps to building industry-leading platforms. This is what we dubbed the Content Inc. model.

You can read the long story in the book. The short story is this – each and every business followed the exact same model and these same six steps.

The story of Copyblogger Media

Brian Clark, founder of Copyblogger Media, shares his story in both the foreword of Content Inc. and throughout as a case study. Brian, a recovering attorney, had some amazing ideas about how businesses should market online. Unfortunately (or maybe I should say fortunately), he didn’t have a product to sell.

For one year and seven months, Brian developed amazing content on a consistent basis to a targeted audience. He defined his ultimate mission:

To create media assets that depended on the permission to contact my audience, not the permission of a media gatekeeper.

In shorthand: Become the expert resource that attracts the right audience without having to buy advertising on someone else’s platform.

And Brian did just that. Today, Copyblogger Media is one of the fastest-growing SaaS (software-as-a-service) companies on the planet.

The Content Inc. model

Whether you work in a large, complex enterprise or are a “solopreneur,” one of the biggest mistakes companies make with content marketing is trying to monetize the content before a loyal audience is built. It takes a plan and patience to build an audience that is more likely to be willing to buy from you. Almost automatically, especially in big businesses, we try to turn our audience into customers so early that we never give our content marketing programs any room to breathe. When we do that, our content isn’t building a subscriber base, and we’ll never see a behavior change due to the consistent influence of the content.

In looking at the multiple case studies from the book, the average time to monetization of a content marketing program was between 15 and 17 months. For CMI, it took 15 months. For Copyblogger, it took 19 months. The model to be successful in that time period encompasses the six essential steps.

Any company in any industry can see amazing results by following this model – if you build in the expectations of time and consistently deliver on your content promise.

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1. The sweet spot

First, uncover a content area around which the business model will be based. To make this happen, we need to identify a sweet spot that will attract an audience over time. This spot is the intersection of a knowledge or skill set (something in which the business has a competency) and a passion area (something the business feels is of great value to society or inherent value to the target audience).

For example, Andy Schneider has built an entire business around his celebrity persona, the Chicken Whisperer. Andy’s knowledge area is backyard poultry. To put it mildly, Andy knows more about raising chickens in a backyard than just about anyone else. At the same time, Andy has a passion for teaching. Andy loves helping his friends with their backyard chicken-raising whenever he can.

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2. Content tilt

Once the sweet spot is identified, the business needs to determine the “tilt” or the differentiation factor to find an area of little to no competition.

Claus Pilgaard is one of the most well-known celebrity figures in Denmark, all because of the extraordinary way he talks about chili peppers. Claus’ YouTube videos have garnered millions of views, including one where Claus conducts the Danish National Chamber Orchestra playing Tango Jalousie while eating the world’s hottest chili peppers. That video alone has more than 3 million views (that’s more than half the population of Denmark).

Claus’ sweet spot was the intersection of his skill at performance art and his passion for chili peppers. But what Claus realized was that there was an abundance of content and experts around the “heat” behind chili peppers, but a content gap around the taste of the peppers. As he explains:

I was actually sitting there in this little summer house getting a little bored and I had my camera with me and thought, “What if you talked about chili peppers in the same way as you were told about raising wine?” You talk about all the different kinds of tastes, not about the alcohol but what it tastes like. Is it coffee, or is it food? What is it? So instead of telling about how hot these peppers were, I was getting around the peppers and talking about the different varieties. And then my body started to tell another story [while eating the peppers]. Maybe that’s why [the videos] became so popular.

Claus always had a passion for chili peppers, but it wasn’t until he started telling a different story that the business model grew legs. The “tasting” addition to the sweet spot was the tilt.

3. Building the base

Once the sweet spot is found and the tilt occurs, a platform is chosen and a content base is constructed. This is exactly like building a house. Before we get into all the paint and fixtures and flooring options, we have to plan and install the foundation. This is done by consistently generating valuable content through one key channel (a blog, a podcast, YouTube, etc.).

The base includes:

  • Content type: Text, video, audio, etc.
  • Content platform: Blog, iTunes, YouTube, etc.
  • Consistency: Same time every day, week, month, etc.
  • Time: It almost always takes over a year to build the base enough to be able to monetize the platform.

Today, Content Marketing Institute offers a print magazine, research papers, podcasts, ongoing workshops, and more … but for the first four years, it was just a blog – the core channel that initially drew in the audience. The blog originally started as just me, writing approximately three times per week. In 2010, we opened up the blog to additional contributors at five times per week. In 2011, the blog went daily, even on weekends.

Not until success was found in the blog (the platform) did CMI diversify to other channels.

4. Harvesting audience

After the platform is chosen and the content base is built, the opportunity presents itself to increase the audience and convert one-time readers into ongoing subscribers.

This is where we leverage social media as key distribution tools and take search engine optimization seriously. At this point, our job is not just to increase web traffic. By itself, web traffic is a meaningless metric. Our goal is to increase traffic to increase the opportunity to acquire an audience.

Here’s how Michael Stelzner, CEO of Social Media Examiner (SME), explains this step:

We were arguably late to the game, because by the time we launched SME there were thousands of other blogs that were dedicated to social, but I saw that as marketplace justification more than anything else. But I didn’t doubt once I began because I knew how to track metrics; I knew what mattered. I knew email acquisition was the key metric and I had decided that we weren’t going to promote (meaning “sell”) anything until we had at least 10,000 email subscribers. And we got to that number so quickly that I knew we were really onto something.

… last year we had 15 million unique people visit SME. We have 340,000 people that we email every single day. We currently publish eight to 10 original articles every single week.

The critical acknowledgment for this area: While many metrics analyze content success, the No. 1 metric is the subscriber. It’s almost impossible to monetize and grow your audience without first getting the reader to take action and actually subscribe to your content.

5. Diversification

Once the model has built a strong, loyal, and growing audience, it’s time to diversify from the main content stream. Think of the model like an octopus, with each content channel being one of the arms. How many of those arms can we wrap our readers in to keep them close to us (and coming back for more)?

ESPN, originally started as a sports-only cable television station in 1979, began with a $9,000 investment by Bill and Scott Rasmussen. Now, almost 40 years later, ESPN is the world’s most profitable media brand with operating earnings of more than $4 billion, according to Forbes.

For 13 years, ESPN directed its attention to one channel for 100 percent of its audience-building focus – cable television. Then, starting in 1992, the floodgates opened on diversification, first with the launch of ESPN Radio. ESPN.com (originally called ESPN SportsZone) launched in 1995, followed three years later by ESPN the Magazine.

Today, ESPN has a property in almost every channel available, from Twitter to podcasts to documentaries. Even though the channels were limited in the 1980s and 1990s (compared with today), ESPN didn’t diversify until the core platform (cable television) was successful.

6. Monetization

It’s time. You’ve identified your sweet spot. You’ve tilted to find an area of content noncompetition. You’ve selected the platform and built the base. You’ve started to build subscribers, and you’ve even begun to launch content on additional platforms. Now is when the model monetizes against the platform.

By this time, you are armed with enough subscriber information (both qualitative and quantitative) that a multitude of opportunities will present themselves to generate revenue. This could be consulting, or selling software, or keeping customers longer, or having customers ultimately buying more when they do buy.

Rand Fishkin, CEO of Moz (originally called SEOMoz), started his blog on search engine optimization insights in 2004. In less than five years, Moz had over 100,000 email subscribers.

Rand originally monetized the audience through consulting services, but in 2007, Moz launched a beta subscription service for software tools and reports. By 2009, Moz closed the consulting business entirely and focused on selling software to its audience. Moz had less than $500,000 in revenue in 2007. Today, it is north of $30 million.

Or let’s looks at a larger business example.

thinkMoney is a print and digital magazine produced by TD Ameritrade for active traders (who sometimes trade hundreds of times a day). In the early days, the program was under ongoing review about whether it was worth spending money on the magazine. But the leaders persevered, and after approximately two years, received the information they needed.

TD Ameritrade found that subscribers and readers of the magazine traded FIVE times more than non-subscribers. Today, thinkMoney doesn’t have to worry about ever being on the chopping block.

The best part? Moz and TD Ameritrade’s success looks amazingly unusual, but it isn’t. The more we’ve researched this, the more we’ve found that these are typical numbers for a Content Inc.-model business. The key is following the six steps as outlined and being patient enough for the model to work.

Want to learn more about how to make this a reality for your business? First, you can pre-order the book here.

Impatient? Download this e-book – 6 Steps to Build a Content Inc. Empire. It goes into each of the six steps and includes exercises on how to execute this model in your own organization.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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How to Guarantee Internal Buy-in for Your Big Content Projects

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Marketers need to ask their fellow C-level colleagues: “Do we want to be spending money on creating average marketing that gets lost in the noise, or on investing in a voice, brand, and knowledge platform that are a cut above everyone else?”

The answer is obvious – no smart leader would ever pick the “noise” option. And yet, buy-in for content marketing investments is difficult. Internal matters of ego and politics, questions about ROI, and limited resources and budget create serious obstacles.

When you, as marketers, pitch your colleagues internally for buy-in for high-impact content marketing projects, your arguments need to be authentic and accessible.

Know the primary reasons

To get that internal buy-in, you first have to understand what the key “most valuable assets” are that comprise the ROI of quality content marketing:

  • Content endurance: Get colleagues to understand that in the slew of real-time news and shortened life spans in the digital world, high-quality content marketing endures because it delivers long-term value.

Spending money on what delivers value over time is a good investment. High-quality content helps with organic search results, ultimately increasing inbound leads and brand presence. Want proof? A Kapost and Eloqua survey found that content marketing ROI was more than three times that of paid search.

  • Trust and engagement: Sixty-four percent of consumers need to hear a company’s message three to five times before they believe it (Edelman) and 82% of prospects feel more positively about a company after reading custom content (Demand). High-quality content marketing initiatives create entry points for your brand to build trust with prospects and can trigger repeated touchpoints with your brand.

Navigate the stakeholders

Stakeholder map

Managing a large-scale content marketing initiative from start to finish requires the project manager in the driver’s seat. To make that happen:

  • Have your agency or internal team meet with the major stakeholders to get their input, and outline the sign-off process so these stakeholders don’t waste time down the line with last-minute (or worse, post-production) edits and changes.
  • Work backward. Brief other department heads such as those in business development, PR, and sales, on how they will be able to use the project to reach their departments’ goals. They will become early allies.
  • Ensure the CEO who buys into the initiative understands the value of editorial independence and how it affects your brand’s trust with prospects and customers.

Be prepared to address the challenges posed by an executive team in evaluating your proposed content marketing initiatives, including:

  • Ego – Too often a CEO will think the content is “not about us enough.” Share the research that reveals 71% of prospects dismiss content that’s too promotional or salesy. Ask executives how they feel reading another company’s publication where the C-suite is quoted in every article.

Prospects only trust, and therefore engage with, content that is credible. As authentic as your business leaders are, it may be more credible to put forward independent experts – showing your brand puts imparting helpful knowledge before making the sale.

  • ROI – Executives frequently talk ROI as if it’s synonymous with lead generation. This reductive interpretation is dangerous because it has zero focus on quality. Brands should evaluate content marketing initiatives by metrics that evaluate how well the content delivers value to the target audiences.

Prepare a breakdown of costs at each stage and explain why those resources are necessary.

Follow these 3 steps

Knowing the key factors and how to address the big challenges gives you the foundation to follow this three-step process for buy-in success:

  1. Get your internal stakeholders in a room early.

The average business decision includes 5.4 internal stakeholders. Use the multiplicity of stakeholders to your advantage from the start – they’ll help the project succeed. Outline everyone’s responsibilities and manage their expectations when it comes to the process (like sticking to the project brief).

  1. Get the ball rolling.

Even if you don’t have everyone’s support or a million-dollar budget, get started. It’s better to have proof of concept and early success than to have nothing to show but a lot of draft proposals. Turn the phrase “luck comes to those in motion” into a serious business motive – if you build steam, others will get on board the juggernaut.

  1. Stick to your guns.

Be ready for everything to go wrong when colleagues change their minds, the ego comes out, or opinions run thick and fast as the content project proceeds. It’s important to retain sight of the end goal – delivering value to your audience. Stick to your guns in terms of what everyone agreed on and bought into earlier. As the project manager, it’s up to you to maintain the project’s integrity.

Conclusion

Unless brands are willing to be brave and stand together on the core reason for content marketing initiatives – to engage prospects and customers with high-quality content through which they engage and trust the brand – even the most well-financed project will fall flat.

The big win of high-impact content marketing is that it takes the value exchange away from the transaction of payment and toward the transaction of knowledge – and if you can get your executives to buy into that, the results will be priceless.

Want more assistance in convincing the C-Suite to support content marketing. Check out CMI’s free kit, Mastering the Buy-in Conversation on Content Marketing for more stats, tips, and essential talking points.

Cover image by Jeff Sheldon, Unsplash, via pixabay.com

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Why BuzzFeed Shouldn’t Blow Your Marketing Mind

Crossfield_Buzzfield

“Roll up! Roll up! Ladies and gentlemen, prepare to be amazed! In this tent is something truly horrifying. Gentlemen will shudder. Ladies will swoon. Children will scream. Can you bear to look upon these monstrous freaks? Enter … if you dare!”

We all know the game by now. Carnival barkers use showmanship and staggering levels of hyperbole to make passers-by so curious that they just have to give a coin to find out what is beyond the gaudily painted tarpaulin. The disappointment they usually experience inside the tent is almost expected, but that’s part of the fun. There’s an unspoken agreement to play along. After all, it doesn’t cost too much, probably only lasts a few minutes and – importantly – they go to the carnival in search of exactly this kind of cheesy thrill.

But I challenge any business to look at the carnival as a lesson in how to attract more customers into a high-street store.

Which kind of marketer are you? Take the short quiz.

It’s easy to see the huge success of content sites like BuzzFeed and Upworthy, and look to them for lessons on how we can drive more traffic from social. Easy, but wrong.

BuzzFeed, Upworthy, and others like them use social media like a boss, with extremely clickable headlines. No argument. But they have business models that rely on traffic, not sales. It’s still the same old advertising model based on impressions and clicks, optimized for a world increasingly dominated by social media.

That’s not a bad model. I’m not criticizing. It works and works well.

However, content marketers need to do far more than just persuade people to click. Traffic from social media only gets the reader to your content. After that, your content still has to be persuasive enough to achieve your broader marketing goals. The success of your strategy relies on the content being informative, memorable, and persuasive enough to convince the reader to do something else. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Excuse my soapbox for a moment, but if the primary goal of your content is better SEO, then you’re an SEO practitioner, not a content marketer. If the primary goal of your content is to have something to put in your email newsletter, then you’re an email marketer, not a content marketer. And if the primary goal of your content is to attract more social media traffic, then you’re a social media marketer, not a content marketer.

Of course, content marketers should still care about SEO, email, and social. But if you’re a content marketer, your content goals come first and everything else follows. The clue is in the name.

You’ll never guess what happened next!

The “Buzzworthy” approach to social media relies on generating what has been termed a “curiosity gap”. Give as little away as possible while teasing maximum interest.

The theory is that if your headline is too specific or the description contains too much information, people won’t feel the need to click to find out more.

Stuff the curiosity gap. Let me be very clear about this. If you really think you can give too much away in 140 characters (including link) to make the content itself redundant, then you probably need to rethink the depth and substance of your content.

Your content is far more than a fluffy distraction. You don’t want to attract readers who are merely curious to find out what you’re about. You want to attract an audience with an interest in your chosen topic area that cannot be sated in 10 words or less. Otherwise, your content marketing strategy is targeting the wrong people with the wrong content.

Five steps to promoting content in social. (No. 3 will shock you!)

What should your social media updates include? How should you promote your content in social?

STEP 1: Start with a fantastic piece of original, relevant and useful content. Well duh, right? But I feel it needs to be said (and repeated) because I still see so many marketers skipping this step in favor of cheap ploys to gather more likes, followers, and clicks without providing anything of real substance.

STEP 2: Describe the content in highly descriptive and relevant terms, particularly if the title itself doesn’t make it clear. “Five Ways to Boost Your Business” is far too vague.

STEP 3: If space allows, add a little context. Avoid generic, cut-and-paste phrases such as “Here’s our latest post” or “This week’s edition of the Brand X newsletter is out.” These are wasted characters that could be used far more effectively. I write every update from scratch so it always feels spontaneous, fresh, and relevant.

STEP 4: Choose the right hashtags. I would recommend sticking with only one or two, researching them beforehand to make sure they’re appropriate and capable of reaching the right audience. More than two? Mix it up in future updates.

STEP 5: This should be a no-brainer, but add an image. Oh, and make sure the image is worth adding. That cheesy stock photo or clichéd vector graphic implies your content may be equally unremarkable. Your choice of image is another way to indicate relevance or topic, so choose descriptive imagery and don’t get too abstract. Our brains read images far faster than words so make the right impression in those crucial split seconds.

OK, so No. 3 probably didn’t shock you. (Did you really think it would?) But then again, I hope my content is a bit more valuable, memorable, and worthwhile than a carnival sideshow. If you start with great content, the right people will find their way into your tent.

This article originally appeared in the June issue of Chief Content Officer. Sign up to receive your free subscription to our bi-monthly print magazine.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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This Week in Content Marketing: Inside The New York Times’ Subscription Funnel

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PNR: This Old Marketing with Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose can be found on both iTunes and Stitcher.

In this week’s episode, Robert and I don’t understand why CNN is being criticized for the launch of Courageous, its internal native advertising agency. Next, we agree with Andrew Davis’ assessment that print is the future of digital and discuss how these two platforms can be leveraged to draw more attention for your best content. Finally, we take a closer look at the Facebook subscriber funnel The New York Times is using to grow its revenue and ponder the thinking behind Manifest, a new content marketing agency merger that combines content creation and experience design. Rants and raves include the platform-building strategies employed by movie studios and the need for marketers to include a customer support component in their content strategies. We wrap up the show with a #ThisOldMarketing example of the week from Disney and merchandising.

This week’s show

(Recorded live July 6, 2015; Length: 1:00:59)

Download this week’s PNR This Old Marketing podcast.

If you enjoy our PNR podcasts, we would love if you would rate it, or post a review, on iTunes

1. Content marketing in the news

  • CNN to broadcast corporate propaganda as news? (6:52): Once a news outlet as recognizable as CNN starts airing branded content, it has the potential to create a huge conflict of interest in editorial decisions, so warns C. Robert Gibson in an opinion piece on Aljazeera. A case in point: If an advertiser does wrong, will the news department be able to criticize it, or will its hands be tied for fear of lost revenue? Robert and I don’t understand what all the controversy is about; brands have been sponsoring television shows for a very long time. CNN forming an internal unit like Courageous actually gives the news network greater control over branded stories.
  • The future of digital is print (16:33): Print is one of the most misunderstood parts of the marketing mix, according to Andrew Davis in a new article and webinar on Shweiki Media. He recommends that brands take their most engaging, short-lived digital content and extend its life span in print. Robert and I agree that it’s an excellent strategy to treat our best content as the valuable strategic asset it is.
  • The New York Times finds new subscribers on Facebook (27:11): Publishers have a lot of tools for bringing readers back to their websites. But often those visitors amount to little more than drive-by traffic, especially if they come from social media. The New York Times has grown its paid subscriber base by targeting Facebook users with an innovative keyword analysis and content targeting tool called Keywee. Robert and I agree that The New York Times’ approach of focusing on a content or subscription funnel instead of trying to generate immediate sales is very smart.
  • A new powerhouse in content marketing and experience design: Manifest (33:08): Manifest Digital, a digital experience design agency, and McMurry/TMG, the omni-channel content marketing specialist, are combining to form Manifest. The new firm will marry the complementary disciplines of content creation and experience design, and will have 400 employees. Its combined 2015 revenue will place it in the top 100 agencies in the U.S and in the top 12 independent agencies. I give the firm bonus points for focusing on the cultivation of long-term customer relationships and for not mentioning the dreaded C-word (“campaign”) anywhere in its announcement.

2. Sponsor (36:49)

  • This Old Marketing is sponsored by Acrolinx, a platform that helps the world’s most recognized brands create more engaging, more readable, and more enjoyable content. It’s offering a new report called The Global Content Impact Index, which shares the results of its detailed analysis of the world’s content. Using a proprietary linguistic analytics engine, its software reviewed 150,000 individual, public-facing web pages from 340 companies around the world. That represents 20 million sentences and over 160 million words. The results were surprising. Learn more at http://bit.ly/acrolinx-global-index.

acrolinx-content-impact-report

3. Rants and raves (39:10)

  • Joe’s rave: This week’s ranking of top-grossing movies reveals that all of the top five films are sequels. The movie studios produce so many of them because they’re perennially popular with audiences. What can brands learn from this strategy? The power of a content series platform, like we’ve seen with Guitar Center TV and Honda Stage, is hard to beat. It’s a great way to build audience engagement.
  • Robert’s rave: Robert loves this article about customer support from Forbes. The author points out that power is shifting to consumers and the firms that earn their love. What does this have to do with content marketers? Service is becoming a component of all customer experiences, including the content we produce. We need to think about this as part of our planning process. How will we deal with complaints and comments, for example?

4. This Old Marketing example of the week (50:40)

  • Disney and merchandising: This excellent article from The Wall Street Journal reveals how the moviemaker systematically approaches new films. Increasingly, it views the production of each movie as a cost of doing business and devotes at least as much, if not more money to merchandising, because that’s where the biggest revenue opportunities tend to be. Cars 2 is a case in point: According to article, the production cost of Cars 2 in 2006 was approximately $150 million. Since then, it has created “revenue ripples” of more than $2 billion per year in merchandising. What’s the lesson for marketers? Step back and take a broader look at your content. Think about it as a platform. Chances are excellent that you’ll uncover new revenue opportunities. Disney’s outstanding approach to content production and merchandising makes it an excellent example of #ThisOldMarketing.

cars-2-disney

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For a full list of PNR archives, go to the main This Old Marketing page.

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How Rodale Inc. Evolved Its Content Strategy to Become the World’s Largest Health and Wellness Media Company

rodale-content-strategy-cover

J.I. Rodale, the founder of Rodale Inc., publisher of Prevention and several other magazines, was dead at the age of 72. What was even more shocking was where he died.

As a guest on The Dick Cavett Show, Rodale suffered a heart attack onstage as the host interviewed another guest. (Cavett and the guest were unaware until they commented to Rodale and he didn’t respond. The show never aired.)

The promoter of health in media was gone, but his legacy carried on. What does this have to do with content marketing? Everything. Not because of the interview, but because of the publishing company Rodale left behind.

You see, Rodale didn’t just create a magazine that “presented systematic ways people could try to prevent illness and disease.” He left behind an understanding of the magazine industry that would propel Prevention to become one of the world’s largest magazines (10 million monthly readers).

What I want to do today is reveal how Rodale Inc. did that, and help you apply it to your own content marketing strategy.

2 reasons why a magazine exists

In my e-book, 51 Content Marketing Hacks, I share the real reason that magazines exist with a quote included in The 1910s by David Blanke and attributed to ad executive James Collins in 1907:

There is still an illusion to the effect that a magazine is a periodical in which advertising is incidental. But we don’t look at it that way. A magazine is simply a device to induce people to read advertising. It is a large booklet with two departments – entertainment and business. The entertainment department finds stories, pictures, verse, etc. to interest the public. The business department makes the money.

These purposes are the same ones on which every effective content marketer must focus:

  1. Providing interesting content
  2. Making a profit

This simple concept is like most foundational concepts. The power isn’t in knowing, it’s in implementing the concepts.

Rodale (and those at Rodale Inc. after him) implemented these concepts so well that it became a science. In 2014, Rodale publications reached an all-time high gross readership of 37.7 million readers.

But how did they do it?

Rodale Inc.’s 5-step content marketing strategy

I accidentally discovered Rodale Inc.’s strategy. It all began when my wife started receiving Prevention magazine and Rodale began to send her promotional magazines (magalogs). The next thing I knew she ordered some of those books and products promoted in those magalogs.

You need to understand something. Unlike me, my wife doesn’t like (or even care about) marketing. For her to read these marketing materials, like them, and respond to them meant Rodale was doing something right. That led me to pay attention to its efforts and research its current and past practices. The results are revealed in the five-step strategy.

1. The only purpose of content creation is to gather a specific audience

Rodale Inc. never creates content for the sake of creating content. It always has a specific audience in mind. All of the content is designed to appeal, attract, and help that audience.

Rodale has created different content verticals for many markets, including:

  • Bicycling
  • Children’s Health
  • Men’s Health
  • Organic Gardening
  • Prevention
  • Runner’s World
  • Women’s Health

Each of these verticals attracts and benefits a unique group of people. Let me use one of its most recent verticals to show how Rodale does it. In March, Rodale created a website called Eat Clean. You can see the detailed vertical audience it plans to attract as described in the site’s press release:

With an often irreverent, always authoritative tone, EatClean.com will be the gathering place for clean-food insiders and experimenters, uncovering the latest trends, innovations, opinions, products, and recipes.

eatclean-website

Rodale’s mindset on creating content is different from that of many marketers. Others usually focus on a generic audience. They create content for “urgent” reasons such as a blog post is scheduled; it’s a topic we’ve wanted to discuss; it’s something everybody else is talking about right now.

But they first should answer the questions important to their content marketing strategies:

  • Who is the specific audience we are trying to attract?
  • What do they want to know?
  • What do they want to share?

Rodale always creates content with purpose and on purpose.

2. Focus on subscribers, not readers

I once heard author and podcaster Paul Colligan say, “I am not focused on listeners. I am focused on subscribers.” This should be true for content creators of all kinds. Why? Readers are great, but subscribers are what really matters.

Why is focusing on subscribers so important? It allows you to use what Seth Godin calls “permission marketing” and what old-school marketers thought of as “two-step marketing.”

It enables you to do five powerful things:

  1. Uncover a specific audience that wants to hear from you by letting them raise their hands and identify themselves.
  1. Gain permission to contact them.
  1. Create content that is expected and anticipated by your audience.
  1. Build a deep relationship with your audience.
  1. Contact your audience for free (or be paid as the magazine subscription model provides).

Email marketing has shown to be much more powerful than any social media tool. And physical mailing lists always have been an asset that every business should grow.

Of course, Rodale appreciates it when people walk into a bookstore and buy one of its magazines. But Rodale isn’t focused on single-copy sales; it knows subscribers offer the most value.

Never forget that is true for you, no matter what type of content you are creating.

3. You effectively sell to audience members by channeling and directing their existing desires

Rodale Press once paid famed copywriter Eugene Schwartz $54,000 for four hours of work. His book, Breakthrough Advertising, is considered a mail-order classic. In it, Schwartz reveals something important that Rodale Inc. learned and implemented with precision:

This is the copy writer’s task: not to create this mass desire – but to channel and direct it. Actually, it would be impossible for any one advertiser to spend enough money to actually create this mass desire. He can only exploit it. And he dies when he tries to run against it. Let me repeat. This mass desire must already be there. It must already exist. You cannot create it and you cannot fight it. But you can – and must – direct it, channel it. Focus it onto your particular product.

Did you catch that?

You cannot create a desire for your product or service. It doesn’t matter if you love your product. All that matters is that your prospects desire it. That’s not only true for copywriters. It’s true of all successful content marketers.

You must know what your audiences’ desires are and how to appeal to them.

How can you do that? Think of your content marketing as a way to discover the desires of your audience.

Write for a specific audience and pay attention to how that content resonates with them. See what gets the most comments and shares. But that’s just the beginning. Talk to those subscribers on whom you’ve been focusing and ask what they want.

Rodale constantly studies the desires of its audiences. It looks at trends. It even conducts an annual survey to get consumers’ reactions to specific areas and types of information.

You can see how Rodale used its research to describe the desires of the Eat Clean audience by looking at this comment from Editor Sarah Toland in the press release:

People are more in tune than ever with the relationship between what they eat, how they look and feel, and how our food affects the planet. Everywhere you shop or eat now, you can find some food label – whether something is sustainably sourced, real, natural, pure, non-GMO, local, gluten-free – that raises more questions than it answers.

Eat Clean helps people negotiate this crazy landscape and figure out how to ‘eat clean’ in a way that makes the most sense for their own health, goals, and ethics.

Rodale understands that unless it knows what a specific audience wants, it can never create solutions that they will buy.

You must never forget this. It’s the key to success in sales conversions.

4. Create multiple ways to fulfill those desires

Once you know the audience’s desires, you can create the things that they want to buy or position what you already offer in ways that appeal to them.

(Rodale doesn’t reveal this anywhere that I’ve been able to find, but I bet that it uses the surveys to help identify the solutions that it sells to its specific audiences.)

The key to doing this effectively is to remember two important things:

  1. People have different content-consumption preferences.
  1. Some types of content have more perceived value than others.

With this in mind, Rodale created all kinds of different info-products, products, and services to appeal not only to the different desires of its audiences but to the different ways the audiences want to consume information.

In addition to magazines, Rodale offers books, products, an online university, and host-branded events. Now obviously, you don’t want to create all of these solutions at once. Start with one idea and build from there. How can you get ideas on where to start?

Look to the content you’ve created for format ideas.

In 51 Content Marketing Hacks, I express it like this:

All of the content you create must be designed to attract and help that hungry crowd with money. Your products and services must meet the needs and/or desires that a crowd of people with money has.

As I explained then, “… You probably have some content that you could repurpose and sell …” such as:

  • Blog posts into audio recordings
  • Audio files into videos
  • Videos into webinars

You are only limited by your creativity.

Rodale knows that to help your audience the most, and at the same time maximize your profits, you must create many types of solutions for your prospects to buy.

If you want to maximize your sales, then you must do the same.

5. You must use ‘content selling’ to see real results

The other thing Rodale does that many content marketers do not do is they rely on more than content marketing — they also rely on content selling.

Content marketing can take you far but without an offer or ask, it’s difficult to get a sale. At some point, you must focus on content that intentionally sells.

What’s the difference? I recently heard Todd Brown of MarketingFunnelAutomation.com give this powerful explanation on the difference between marketing and selling. I’ll paraphrase it: Marketing is when you talk about the prospects – the prospect’s situation, needs, wants, and what’s in the best interest of your prospect. In other words, what they should be doing to alleviate their problem … Selling is when you talk about you, your product, your product’s benefits, features, advantages, risk-reversal, bonuses – that’s selling.

In other words, content marketing is content focused on attracting members of an audience, educating them, and helping them. Content selling is content focused on why the audience members should buy what you are offering.

Rodale doesn’t just focus on content to attract its audiences (magazines = content marketing). It also is focused on content that offers a solution (magalogs and sales letters = content selling).

That is why Rodale is so successful. That’s why my wife has purchased things from the company. Its magazines alone would never have been able to accomplish this success.

Too many content marketers never ask for the sale. They waste much of their content marketing efforts.

Rodale never loses sight of the two purposes of a magazine – to gather an audience and to make a profit. This balanced focus and the powerful way it is implemented are the keys to Rodale’s amazing success.

If you want to see better results, then you must do the same.

5 questions to get started

This five-step strategy can act as a template to improve your content marketing strategy. Answer these questions to see which step you need to focus on. Once you can answer yes to a question, proceed to the next.

  • Have I determined the specific audience on which we are focused?
  • Have I focused sufficiently on subscribers?
  • Do I know the existing desires of this audience?
  • Have I created enough different types of solutions to sell to them?
  • Have I created content that encourages these audience members to purchase and explained why they should?

Following Rodale’s model, you can ask the right questions to develop the best answers to create a well-informed content marketing strategy.

Want some more assistance to enhance your content marketing strategy and structure your team for more effective content marketing. Read CMI’s e-book: Building the Perfect Content Marketing Mix.

Cover image by SplitShire via pixabay.com

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6 Linking Techniques That Will Help Your Content Get Ranked, Found, and Read

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Content marketing and SEO live in parallel universes. Great content is usually optimized for search simply by the nature of its high quality and quantity.

The problem occurs, however, when content marketers lose sight of their goals and, therefore, fail to have the correct perspective on the techniques that back up the findability of great content. Your content marketing goals should drive your content marketing practices and techniques.

As Joe Pulizzi has explained, you can have a number of overall business goals in content marketing.

  • Brand awareness or reinforcement
  • Lead conversion and nurturing
  • Customer conversion
  • Customer service
  • Customer loyalty/retention
  • Customer upsell
  • Passionate subscribers

But that is only the start. There can be more goals, depending on the specific audiences and the niche. To accomplish any of those goals, your content must get:

  • Ranked by search engines
  • Found by users
  • Read by users

And for the content to do that, it must be linked.

The concept of linking opens a huge can of worms, in both the content marketing and SEO worlds. Content marketers may object to links altogether, declaring them to be part of the seamy underworld of black hat SEO. SEO marketers, on the other hand, may secretly crave links and surreptitiously buy links.

Whatever the polarized views on the issue are, links are a real part of content marketing and SEO because:

  • Unless your content gets linked, is linked, and has links, it doesn’t get ranked.
  • If it doesn’t get ranked, it doesn’t get found.
  • If it doesn’t get found, it doesn’t get read.
  • And if no one is reading your content, then what’s the purpose of content marketing?

We have to think about links. We have to do something about links. We have to be informed, proactive, and strategic when it comes to linking technique in content marketing.

Linking is an integral part of content creation. The wrong linking practices may mean that your content never gets ranked or found. Even worse, misguided linking practices may result in a link penalty.

Here are the six things that every content marketer needs to know about linking techniques.

1. Use co-citation

Coci-what?

Co-citation isn’t the sexiest technique on the planet, but it’s a darn good one. Plus, it promises to hold sway in the future of SEO.

SEO co-citation happens when your brand is mentioned but not linked. Since Google tracks brand mentions and not just direct links, you can grow the authority, ranking, and recognition of your site when you get more brand mentions.

Co-citation can even happen when Website 1 links to Website 2 and Website 3, thereby lending the authority of Website 2 to Website 3 even though the two aren’t linked.

Have I confused you yet?

Co-citation and its cousin co-occurrence are a bit mind-boggling. Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to grasp the application of it.

Here’s what you should do: Mention other brands and sites in your content even if you don’t link to them.

Now, to be clear, linking to such sites is usually best. But if linking is not optimal or possible, then co-citation is an appropriate method of improving ranking and authority.

Here are times when co-citation can benefit your site:

  • Guest blogging – Mention your site and/or brand name.
  • Social media posts – Google indexes brand mentions on social platforms.
  • Forum discussions or other user-generated content platforms where linking is not possible.

Watch the power of co-citation in practice.

“Content Marketing Institute” is mentioned on Forbes and Practical Ecommerce. Therefore, it appears in Google’s Search Engine Result Pages:

cmi-google-search-engine-result-page-image 1

I click through to Practical Ecommerce. Here’s what I read:

cmi-mention-no-link-image 2

There are two mentions of CMI, but no links. Is this a tragic loss of link potential?

Not necessarily. Why not? Because Google knows that the Practical Ecommerce site builds brand presence and potential for http://ift.tt/J77IQj and is giving it ranking presence. The articles mentioning CMI get found by search engines, noticed by users in Google’s News Knowledge Graph, and read by those users.

2. Forget about keywords

Even though I’m an SEO and digital marketer, I’m really telling you to forget about keywords.

Obviously, this point requires elaboration.

Keywords aren’t dead, but they have given way to a more complex SEO medley of search intent, long-tail complexity, semantic relevance, and schema markup.

In the old days of SEO, if you wanted to get ranked for a certain term, you would stuff your page with that term. Many SEOs went so far as to insist on “keyword density,” a supposed ideal ratio of keywords to the rest of the content.

In those days, the content might well be crappy, but it had tons of keywords, so Google would index it, rank it, and your website would be found.

It doesn’t work that way anymore. New standards of content marketing demand that you create insanely good content. Keywords and their semantic cousins happen naturally as a byproduct of great content.

In researching and writing this article, I did not give a single thought to a keyword. However, I imagine that eventually this article might rank for queries like “best practices for linking in content,” and “how to use links in content marketing.”

Here’s an example of how this works.

A user might be interested in “real-time marketing” and its effectiveness so she searches: “will RTM work for marketing.”

Here’s what she gets. Notice the top result:

google-results-rtm-image 3

That long-tail query, “will RTM work for marketing,” appears nowhere in Gregarious Narain’s article on CMI. In fact, the operative term “RTM” appears only twice in the article.

What’s going on here?

Well for one thing, keywords aren’t a big deal. Instead, there is a well-written article with plenty of semantic relevance. It is lengthy, well-cited, effectively linked to other sites, carefully analyzed, and it appears on an authoritative site.

And what happens? The article gets indexed, ranked to the top position on Google in mere hours (three hours after its publication), and read by a lot of people.

What’s the takeaway? It’s the old adage – write for users, not for search engines. Forget about your keywords, and dive into your subject with the best possible content you can create.

3. Stay focused on your niche

If you remain focused on your niche, you will get links from other websites.

If you stray from your niche, you will get links from undesirable websites in off-niches. Undesirable websites in off-niches will ruin your site’s authority.

When Google ranks your website, it is not just looking for links. It is looking for links from relevant websites. The more relevant these sites are, the more authority they give to your site.

Let me show you an example of this. Content Marketing Institute has a lot of links. What kind of websites are linking to CMI?

Take a look at the Majestic report:

majestic-report-image 4

From this chart, you notice that the Majestic topical trust algorithm considers links from “Computers / Internet / Web Design and Development” to be highly trustworthy. That’s exactly the kind of links CMI wants and needs.

They also consider links from “Business / Chemicals” to be authoritative. OK, that’s fine, but CMI doesn’t have very many of those so it’s no big deal.

CMI also gets a lot of links from marketing and advertising websites. That’s a win, because, after all, CMI is in the business of marketing.

The point is, these are the types of links that CMI wants and needs to build authority. CMI doesn’t need links from online casinos, floral design blogs, or online dating sites. Those wouldn’t be authoritative for CMI’s niche.

Question: How did CMI get such great links with such high relevance?

Answer: CMI only publishes articles for which it wants to get links.

The secret to getting the best kind of links to your content is publishing the best kind of content for your niche.

4. Don’t optimize your anchor text

When you link to other websites, there is a huge principle to keep in mind: Don’t optimize your anchor text.

What does this mean?

Every text link uses anchor text – the words in the copy that form the link.

In the following sentence, the term “cheap cell phones” would be the anchor text for a link to “http://ift.tt/1G97dPB”

Check out the best place to buy cheap cell phones.

“Cheap cell phones” is a horrible anchor text. Why? Because it’s optimized with keywords.

The URL and presumably the page title and content all use that same keyword – “cheap cell phones.” By optimizing the anchor text with that term, the site is at risk for being penalized.

Linking is great. Linking with keyword-optimized anchor text is not great.

Instead of using keywords, use sentence fragments, branded terms, or other innocuous words in your anchor text.

5. Interact with other websites and blogs

A great way to get links from other sites is to interact with those sites.

You probably know the other players in your niche. Maybe they are competitors or simply other great websites. If you link to them and discuss their content, they are more likely to notice you and link to you.

Buffer, a social media tool, consistently publishes detailed long-form articles. In doing so, it interacts with other content sites in its niche.

In this article, Buffer links to Socialbakers:

socialbakers-image 5

That link goes to this page:

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Here’s the thing. Socialbakers is a social media measurement and optimization platform. So is Buffer. Are Socialbakers and Buffer competitors?

Probably, yes.

But that doesn’t keep Buffer from linking to Socialbakers nor should it. Great content is great content, no matter who publishes it. Thus, Buffer can link to Socialbakers.

Who gets the benefit? Buffer and Socialbakers get the benefit. Socialbakers gets the benefit of a link, while Buffer gets recognition, co-citation value, recognition from Socialbakers, and the ethical use of its data in a great piece of content. Win.

The moral of the story is that it’s OK to link to other websites, competitors or not, as long as those websites have great content that adds value to your own.

In this article, I’ve linked to Kissmetrics, Search Engine Watch, Moz, Buffer, Google, and Quicksprout. Why? Because they all have something to enrich the content that you’re reading right now.

Note: If you don’t want to pass link juice to a competitor, you can use a link with the “nofollow” attribute. This qualifier allows you to link to the content, which is great for users, but it doesn’t pass the value to that site.

6. Link internally

In all the confusion and complexity of linking, it’s easy to forget one powerful linking technique: internal linking.

What is internal linking? Simply put, internal linking is creating a link from one page of your website to another, like this:

internal-linking-image 7

Image source

In the illustration above by Wikiweb, each “post” is linked to another “post” and from another “post.” Those posts are most likely evergreen pages or blog articles.

Internal links are different from menu links. Menu links are part of the structure of the site as a whole, and usually lead users to main pages. Internal linking in this discussion refers to actual text links within the content.

Anytime you create an article for your website, you should be linking it to and from other articles within your website.

Internal linking won’t pass authority to your site like an inbound link from, say, The New York Times, might. However, it will strengthen your site structure and integrity. Here’s what happens when you create internal links:

  • Helps users access additional content
  • Improves dwell time
  • Reduces bounce rate
  • Distributes page authority throughout the site
  • Enhances the crawlability of the site
  • Increases the indexation of all pages, including deep internal pages
  • Increases overall page views across the site

If those terms are Greek to you, don’t sweat it. Here’s the big idea: Internal linking is awesome.

As an example of this, at the beginning of this article, I linked to Joe’s article. Why? First, it was relevant to my discussion. Second, I did it because it’s a strategic internal linking technique. That single link with the anchor text, “As Joe Pulizzi has explained,” has created a strengthening element to the website as a whole.

My blog, Quicksprout, uses this technique. As long as I have relevant content in another post on the site, I may drop in a link so that users can get more information. Here’s a recent example from one of my articles:

internal-link-example-image 8

Conclusion

I started this article by reminding us of the goals of content marketing. Now, I want to bring it back to that goal-focused effort.

Remember why you’re doing this. It’s for customers. Make your content for readers, for users, for real people.

Linking is an important part of the content marketing universe, but let’s keep the big picture in mind, too.

Is linking a part of your content marketing strategy?

Want to expand your SEO insight? Check out Content Marketing Institute’s SEO content hub for more content focused on how to elevate your search engine rankings and relevance.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

The post 6 Linking Techniques That Will Help Your Content Get Ranked, Found, and Read appeared first on Content Marketing Institute.

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Is Your Content Marketing Career on Autopilot?

content-marketing-career-cover

In times of rapid change, learning new skills equips you to adapt and thrive. It also helps you to sidestep programmatic thinking – the tendency to rely too much on existing knowledge and ignore signs that it isn’t as effective as it once was. Nowhere is this truer than in the field of content marketing.

An expanding body of evidence, collected from surveys and conversations with marketers from a variety of organizations, points to a growing gap between our need to plan, execute, and measure effective content marketing initiatives and our skills for doing so.

Part of the problem is a failure to recognize the need for new skills and to find the dedication necessary to develop and apply them to today’s challenges and tomorrow’s exciting opportunities.

Blinded to need for change

When it comes to solving challenges, your brain is surprisingly programmatic. To navigate each day and manage the torrent of incoming information, your brain typically operates in a stimulus-response mode – sort of an autopilot for managing recurring situations. Faced with a familiar stimulus, you tend to react in a predictable way based upon your knowledge and experiences. You don’t give much conscious thought to recurring decisions and actions.

In many cases, that’s a good thing, because your brain’s limited bandwidth is used efficiently. In other situations, especially in times of change, that autonomic mode of operation can be a big problem.

Even when you engage in creative problem solving, chances are good that you’re a creature of habit. When you brainstorm solutions for a challenge, you stop as soon as you uncover the first “right” answer. That’s human nature. While it may relieve the discomfort of uncertainty, the first right solution usually is not the most valuable one.

Don’t let repetition become mistake

How does programmatic thinking manifest itself in content marketing?

Many marketers still use the same old strategies and tactics to influence and persuade audiences to buy their products – and they experience diminishing results. You follow deeply scripted habits and ways of thinking about customers, competition, products, and marketing. You find it hard to change, especially when the tactics still seem somewhat effective even if they aren’t sexy or exciting.

Under these circumstances, you may not realize how constrained you are by your existing skills and experience. You may simply take it for granted that they are good enough. Only they’re not. That’s reflected in the data from CMI’s 2015 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends research:

  • Eight percent of respondents believe they are very effective in their use of content marketing.
  • Thirty-four percent say they are challenged by gaps in knowledge and skills of their internal teams.
  • Thirty-two percent say they’re having problems locating qualified content marketing professionals – that’s more than three times as many as in 2013 (10%).

In addition, responses to an open-ended question showed a growing hunger for information on topics that include content planning and strategy, ROI measurement, marketing automation, and paid promotion.

As the best practices for content marketing strategy, execution, and measurement evolve at a rapid pace, the knowledge gap will have significant implications for businesses large and small, according to CMI Chief Strategy Officer Robert Rose:

Professional development is critical right now. The disparity in skills will continue to grow as the practice of content marketing and the strategies to operationalize it evolve. Those companies that focus on developing new skills today are likely to employ the successful marketers of the future. Those companies that maintain the status quo are likely to find their content marketing initiatives stillborn – the fate of every corporate initiative that fails to demonstrate ROI and how it contributes to the strategic direction of the organization. There is no middle ground.

Identify training needs

How do you know if your content marketing skills are up to date? Here are several questions that can help you get a clearer picture of your needs:

  • How well are my current work practices meeting my needs and those of my employer or clients?
  • Do my work processes and tasks become more or less effective over time?
  • If I am less effective, how can I learn alternative strategies and tactics?

Equip yourself with the right tools

A surgeon can’t perform an operation without the right tools. It’s no different for marketers today. Upgrading your knowledge of content marketing strategies and tactics creates an up-to-date, more extensive toolbox that you can use to solve today’s and tomorrow’s content marketing challenges. This new knowledge also can give your career a big boost, especially given the short supply of experienced content marketers.

The popular business book Who Moved My Cheese? contains an important lesson for marketers who are on the fence about committing to expanding their skill set.

This perennially popular business fable tells the story of two mice (Scurry and Sniff) and two “little people” (Hem and Haw) who live in a maze. All is going well because they have found a huge source of their favorite food – cheese. Hem and Haw even moved their houses to be closer to it. For all four characters, cheese has become the center of their lives.

What they don’t notice is that the pile of cheese is gradually getting smaller. They are devastated when one day they discover that the cheese is gone. Scurry and Sniff quickly accept the loss and go off in search of other sources. On the other hand, Hem and Haw cling to their old ways, hoping the cheese will return. They rationalize that the loss is the result of fraud or theft. They are unable to change. Meanwhile, Scurry and Sniff discover an even larger supply of cheese in a new location.

Which character are you? Do you cling to your existing knowledge of marketing strategies and practices, like Hem and Haw? Or are you prepared to adapt to change like Scurry and Sniff were – willing to explore, understand, and employ new work practices and ways of thinking? Which character do you want to be?

Want to start bridging your knowledge gap? Take these two free e-courses from the Content Marketing Institute – part of CMI’s comprehensive Online Training & Certification Program. It contains over 19 hours of must-know strategies, tactics, and best practices, delivered by leading experts. Sign up now for the free e-courses.

Cover image by Viktor Hanacek, picjumbo, via pixabay.com

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