The 3 Most Important Best Practices for Inbound Marketing in 2018

The 3 Most Important Best Practices for Inbound Marketing in 2018

Inbound marketing drives innovation and success at all levels of business, but like all technology-driven marketing practices, it continues to evolve. The ability to stay at the head of the curve, implementing the newest tactics and adjusting your strategy accordingly will keep you atop your competitors in 2018 and beyond.

Let’s take a closer look at the areas that your business should be focused on most in 2018 to adhere to best practices for inbound marketing.

Persona Development as a Foundational Tool

Persona identification is not new. It’s one of the oldest pillars of a good marketing campaign and is more important than ever for small businesses using technology to target narrow streams of new traffic. But technology is making it increasingly possible to use your persona targeting efforts to improve everything from the language in your nurturing emails to the targeting on your landing pages and blog posts.

  • Identifying Key Channels Based on Personas – Where are your target users spending their time online? Forums, social media channels and groups, websites, and newsletters – knowing these things can provide key insights into the content they want and the thought leaders they trust.
  • Building Thought Leader Profiles – In addition to your persona profiles, you can now generate thought leader profiles that illustrate the types of content you should create, the medium and channels through which to deliver those insights, and the types of resources you can build to help your audience.
  • Optimizing Content Based on User Search Intent – Google is getting better at understanding what a user wants when they search for something, and if your site doesn’t provide it, you’ll rank lower. Persona development allows greater insight into that search intent so you can update existing content and create new content to meet it.

By understanding who your target audience consists of and the language they use to describe their problems you can upgrade your messaging at almost every level – on your website, in your marketing materials, and even in person.

Media Matters More Than Ever

I’m not the first person to tell small business owners that they need to invest in media to support written content, but in 2018, it matters more than ever before. People can retain 65% of what they see in a relevant image after three days, compared to just 10% when they hear something, and in 2017 video content represented more than 74% of all internet traffic. Even more telling, according to an Animoto survey, four times as many consumers would prefer to watch a video than read an article. 

People are visual creatures and technology has finally reached the point at which we can consume media in the way that best fits that nature. Video is more compact and Internet access is faster than ever. Tools like Canva, Venngage and Designrr are inexpensive and make it possible for even a small business to build visual content without a designer. Whether it’s creation of custom image headers for use on social media, visualizations of data in your articles, or slideshare and video versions of your written content, media matters and should be top of mind in your marketing efforts.

SEO Is a Living, Breathing Organism

Search engine optimization has evolved in ways that few could have expected, even just a few years ago. When Google launched, it measured dozens of factors on a static basis. Smart marketers were able to game that system quickly, and they kept ahead of the curve for more than 15 years, updating their tactics as Google announced and implemented new algorithm changes.

In the last two years, this has changed. In 2016, for example, Google conducted 9,800 live traffic experiments and more than 130,000 search quality tests, resulting in 1,653 search changes and 11 major algorithm changes. In 2017, there were 12 major algorithm changes and Moz’s Mozcast measurement of search volatility was routinely at or above 90-100. The search engine is a living, breathing thing now – constantly updating and revising its measurement of your site and its value based on thousands of known and unknown factors.

Yes, links matter, but you can’t manipulate the system in the way you once could. Even the best SEOs have shifted their focus to what matters most – quality content delivered to answer questions and address search intent. What matters now?

  • Site quality and user experience
  • Content quality and frequency
  • The ability of your site to address the questions and concerns of your visitors

The stuff that always should have mattered – and as the search engines improve their ability to scan your site and determine if it is effectively addressing these concerns, those technical factors will matter less and less.

What can you do? It’s simple. Produce quality content, fix problems on your site, and be actively engaged with users to ensure your content addresses their questions. Look for red flags like high bounce rates, drops in the number of new backlinks to your content, or insufficient engagement from your audience.

Staying Ahead of the Curve in 2018 and Beyond

Content-driven marketing is the core of most B2B marketing departments, but it cannot rely on the same old tactics year to year. Like the search engines and user media preferences, these best practices will only continue to evolve, and your efforts need to keep up.

Concerned your website isn’t ready for an investment in marketing due to these best practices? Download our free guide, 17 Tips to Ensure Your Website is Marketing Ready, and learn what you can do to maximize your marketing investment and generate real ROI.

How Can I Get More Leads from My Advertising Budget?

How Can I Get More Leads from My Advertising Budget?

A successful internet marketing campaign has a lot of pieces – almost too many to easily convey to stakeholders what’s being done. In my previous job, we created a long and detailed monthly report that would break down most of what we did, but generally from the perspective of the results we were trying to generate. 

There were plenty of bits and pieces that would get buried in the data and while I strongly encouraged team members to elaborate, there was no way to consistently report on all of it every single month.

To me this didn’t matter. The clients wanted to know what they were paying for, but more importantly, they wanted to know that what they were paying for was working. That they were investing in a sound product and getting a good return on that investment. The reporting showed what they were getting back from their investment (or not getting back in a handful of rare cases), and it succeeded for that reason.

So it’s not surprising to me that I get certain questions more than others – people wondering why their current investments aren’t working the way they expect them to. My new clients come to me with any number of concerns – the lack of results from a previous SEO engagement, the cost of content, the potential (or lack thereof) of a social media marketing campaign, and biggest of all, the massive cost and often small return of an advertising campaign.

The Growing Cost of Paid Search and Social Ads 

As the digital business landscape has evolved, so too has the cost of advertising in it. Google AdWords, Facebook Ads, and even smaller platforms like Twitter or Bing have increased in cost rapidly because the audience is so much more robust, active, and ubiquitous in 2016 than it was in 2006.

It’s hard to imagine a time before PPC advertising as a vital component of a digital marketing campaign (or a time before digital marketing campaigns), but it was only a decade ago that advertising online was a scattershot enterprise, done with banners and animated gifs.

Today, savvy advertisers target thousands of very specific keywords in tightly defined markets with weekly or even daily review and turnaround on bids, placement and ad copy. It’s the single fastest moving and most revised component of a digital marketing campaign. Google PPC is such a big beast and so deeply entwined with the vagaries and technicalities of Google’s search engine, that it requires an expert – a single person whose sole job is to do amazing things behind the scenes. And it can be very costly if you don’t have that person.

The Lead Question

Which brings me back to the big question I get from new clients and business owners I meet and discuss marketing strategy with. The number of leads they are currently getting with an advertising campaign, and it all comes back to the holistic nature of digital marketing.

The problem with a lot of PPC advertising campaigns and SEM agencies that focus on them is that they approach paid search in a vacuum. They create landing pages, update site copy, and run ads without considering the impact of outside factors or the way in which these campaigns can benefit from other non-paid tactics.

Here’s a prime example:

Several years ago I worked with a locksmith in Wisconsin who was running paid ads in Google for about $1,000 a month. He was targeting a number of local keywords and driving that traffic back to one of three landing pages – a general one, a local targeted one for his biggest market, and a consultation form.

The conversion rate was not good. He was spending close to $300 per lead, getting only 3-4 new leads per month with his $1,000 spend. For a locksmith whose average order size was between $200 and $500, he was barely coming out ahead. Not losing money, but not growing his business either, and the cost of having someone manage that campaign was bringing him very close to a break even.

His first question to me was “how can I get more leads from my ad budget?”. I looked at the following five things:

  1. The keywords being targeted – The keyword groups weren’t bad. They were related to specific problems and pain points his customers might have, and they were effectively geotargeted to people in his immediate area. The real issue here was that his website didn’t reflect these keywords. Quality scores were middling and he was paying too much for his ads because the website had no local content, nor did it cover those specific problems.
  2. Landing page design – He wasn’t using specific landing pages that related to his keyword groups. Someone would click on a very targeted ad for “24 hour locksmith, kenosha, Wisconsin” and end up on the homepage for a generic looking locksmith that didn’t mention Kenosha or Wisconsin. I recommended creating a new landing page for each of the ad groups that were running (about a dozen).
  3. Clear conversion points – The ads were targeting problems, but his website did not. Because of this the above two points became issues. We created new content on the site targeting specific problems people might have that would lead them to call a locksmith. These were split between an FAQ and a blog that we started scheduling weekly posts on. The content would eventually help drive traffic organically, but also offered support for the claims made by his ads.
  4. Ad timing and placement – The ads were being run 24 hours a day, because he was a 24-hour locksmith. The problem, however, was that it was being shown evenly throughout the day. After speaking to his sales and support team, we determined that the best hours for a locksmith are actually between 10am and 5pm – the majority of his work was contractor or home owner related, not emergency lockouts. So we adjusted the spend. Second, for those ads that do run late at night, we shifted the spend to mobile devices where people are most likely to be looking for a locksmith at 1am.
  5. Created educational content – The assumption was that all of his customers were locked out and needed an emergency service right away. But these lockouts only made up about 25% of his business and he didn’t want it to grow – getting pulled out of bed at 1:30 am by someone locked out of their apartment after a long night drinking is not a fun way to build a business. So we shifted strategy, creating content about the types of locks one might consider for a new house, how to ensure keys are not duplicated, and other tips that were useful to homeowners and contractors who might consider a locksmith. We gated this content on landing pages and ran ads pointing to it.

The end result of all these changes was an increase in lead generation of 175% in the first month. Granted that was only an additional 5 leads, but it meant a cost per lead drop of nearly $200 from $300 to $117 and an increase in business. That number continued to improve over the next three months, but more importantly, all that new content on the website started to generate organic leads through Google search.

People found him for keywords like “Kenosha Wisconsin locksmith” organically. The total ROI on these efforts grew over time instead of dropping off, and eventually he was able to cut his ad budget. 

The Next Step with Ad Spend

This is a question I get a lot, and unfortunately there isn’t an easy answer to it. Some inbound agencies will tell clients that paid search has no value. I disagree. Content marketing and inbound techniques are important, but if you can’t drive traffic to all of the new content you created, it won’t do anything.

Paid search allows you to drive immediate traffic to high quality content and recoup your investment much faster than if you waited the 6-9 months it now takes for a dedicated SEO campaign to really kick in. But the way straight SEM tactics approach paid search isn’t effective anymore either.

Paid search can’t work in a vacuum, nor will those ads convert effectively if there isn’t a smarter approach to creating content that delivers on the promises of the ads being run. So the next time you are doing a review of your ad spend and wondering just how many leads you should or could be getting out of that budget, stop looking at the ads themselves and look closer at the content you are sending people to with those ads.

I guarantee you’ll find more than a small share of things that can be changed for the better. 

Learn how to get more from your landing pages and boost your conversion rates for ongoing campaigns with our new optimization checklist:

5 Tips to Speak Your Audience’s Language

5 Tips to Speak Your Audience’s Language

Content needs to speak the same language as the people reading it. Generic content, content that doesn’t touch on the specific needs or concerns of your audience, and content that glosses over major concerns that your audience might have, just doesn’t work.

What does work is carefully researched content that a prospect will read as written directly for them.

But how do you create that kind of content – how do you get so far into the head of your prospects that they think you’re writing to them and them only?

Here are five tips from a top digital strategist to help master and emulate how your target prospects talk about their problems and engage them through content.

  • Spend Time Where They Spend Time – Go to the websites, forums, groups, and other online places that these individuals spend time. LinkedIn groups are especially effective to evaluate the types of conversations that are held professionally. Don’t necessarily restrict this to online either. Meetup groups, mixers, and conferences are equally effective for this type of research.
  • Subscribe to their Blogs and Social Profiles– Select a small group of people who are representative of the target audience you are trying to reach. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and any other platforms on which they regularly post. Check their blog, interact with them through comments and direct messages. Get to know their voice and their concerns in the way they naturally communicate.
  • Ask Your Existing Customers – Go to the people you already know. This is your richest pool of potential data; people who have had the problems you solve and that you have already worked with. Ask your sales team to provide answers to common questions you are preparing in advance of your marketing campaign or to share the common questions that their prospects ask.
  • Interview or Survey Target Demographics – Create a blind survey and ask those very same questions to people who you haven’t previously interacted with so you can avoid the bias that comes with it. This will cost money if you don’t have a list of people already that you can send it to, but for 200-300 answers, it’s well worth the investment to learn more about the common concerns and questions they have. Make sure each question is open ended to encourage written answers.
  • Test Different Types of Content with What You Learn – Finally, don’t be afraid to test different types of content and ask for feedback. Write content, produce videos, and post to social media based on what you learn, and then take that content to people you know in your target audience and ask them for feedback. Ask them to provide thoughts and questions about the content you wrote and elaborate on what might need to be changed or added.

It can seem time consuming, and at times redundant to do this kind of research, especially if you’ve been in the industry for some time. But the extra time spent will be well worth it when you understand on a much more direct basis what people need and how they describe those needs.

The next step is to create that content and start promoting it. Learn how to ensure your site is ready for the spike in inbound marketing activity you’re about to begin with our Marketing Ready checklist.

5 Questions for Effective B2B Audience Targeting

5 Questions for Effective B2B Audience Targeting

One of the most common concerns I hear from fellow marketers and business owners first implementing content marketing in their efforts is that it doesn’t drive engagement. Even if the platform on which the content is published gets thousands or tens of thousands of visits, the content doesn’t drive the kind of shares, comments, and social signals they assumed it would.

The big question here is why? What makes one piece of well written, carefully researched content different from another that drives three times the engagement?

The B2B audience targeting.

A well written piece of content needs to do many things – but before you put a single keystroke to a Word DOC, you had better know exactly who that content will be written for. Good content without a clear target is vague. It’s generic and lacks conviction, and driving someone to take action when the content lacks energy is nearly impossible.

Questions for Ideal B2B Audience Targeting

B2B Audience Targeting

So where do you start? How do you create something that goes above and beyond “101-level” introductory content and resonates with the specific audience to which you want to provide value?

One of the most important things you can learn from Hubspot’s Inbound Marketing training course is how to identify and detail out a buyer persona. This is a human embodiment of the ideal customer – a top to bottom description of who you are writing for and what they are concerned about. Here are some highlights to help identify who this person is:

  • Who Are Your Best Customers – No one knows your customers better than you. Who are the best ones – the ones you would clone if you could? What do they have in common? Is there a particular industry, role within a company, or need they have that’s similar across multiple situations?
  • What Are their Most Common Questions – From there, gather a list of common questions these people ask. These can be questions asked during the sales process or ones they ask after becoming a customer that you know you answer frequently.
  • What Is the Single Biggest Pain Point They Face – From these questions, distil down to a single pain point you know they all share. What is the biggest worry, concern, or point of stress they deal with related to what you do for them?
  • What Is Their Position within Your Target Company – Most likely, these people will share a position within the companies they work for. Evaluate job titles, roles, and positions and determine what you’ll be dealing with.
  • List Some Basic Demographics – Other demographics you may want to consider in building your audience profile include age, education level, location, and income level. These will affect the language to which they respond and how best to address their problems.

Will this cover everyone who might be a good customer for your company? Absolutely not. But it will create targeted, engaging content that dives deep into what a specific segment of your audience needs rather than broad, generic content that you can find on a dozen other websites.

When you create this type of content, it resonates. And content that resonates, even with a smaller segment of potential readers, will drive more conversions and help you generate better leads in higher volumes.

What’s the Next Step?

Once you know who your target audience in the B2B space is and what they are looking for from content, you can start writing. But to better resonate and ensure your content hits the right mark with those potential prospects, you’ll want to speak their language.

From there, you’ll be able to speak their language and address their problems. This will almost certainly result in an increased rate of engagement across all of your content and becomes an integral part of your digital marketing plan.

Consistency is the Key to Successful Content Marketing

Consistency is the Key to Successful Content Marketing

Volume is an important factor in content marketing – the more you produce, the more people will likely see your content. But even volume has an upper cap. HubSpot’s VP of Content Joe Chernov recently made a change on the blog in which the company scaled back their content production significantly because they had reached a point of diminishing returns.

While their eventual number is 100 posts per month, well above and beyond what you and I can produce, it shows that there is a limit to what volume alone can do. Quality is equally important, but I believe above and beyond all of those factors is consistency.

Without consistently produced content released on a regular basis, a number of issues can pop up. Here’s a look at the benefits you gain from releasing content consistently. 

Regular Readers

If you produce high quality content, you’ll gain a small loyal following of regular readers. This is a great thing, but if you want to keep them you’d better be consistent. This goes double for content that falls into the “limited demand” category of podcasts and videos.

People only have so much time in the week to consume content. If you fall behind in posting, you can easily fall off of their regular rotation. Podcasters live and die by this with new ones focused heavily on how to get into that rotation and old ones working to stay in it. Skip an episode and you’re out. The same goes for video production and regular blog production (especially if you write long posts that require a lot of time to consume).

SEO Friendly Production

The search engines like regular content – they also reward it with more consistent and frequent crawling of your site. This can lead to better results in the search engines for all of your content.

At the same time, there are a number of directories that will only list your content if it is updated consistently. AllTop, one of the better expert-level blog directories will only list your blog if you post consistently with fresh, expert-level content on your subject matter. Stop posting and you lose that spot.

Feeds a Regular Social Schedule

Social media lives and dies by the content you produce. No content means nothing to put into the cyclical social machine, which of course means less activity on all of your channels. If you have a regular posting schedule for your blog, YouTube channel, and podcast, you have a solid log of content you can then post related to your brand in social media.

It also allows you to schedule in advance more readily because you’ll be drawing from an editorial calendar that is hopefully ahead by several days or even weeks.

What Role Does Frequency Play in Consistency?

It doesn’t matter how frequently you post to your blog – do it consistently. If you decide to post only once a month make sure you’re posting on the same day every month. If it’s weekly, choose a day and stick to it. Consistency has to become an integral part of your digital marketing strategy.

This helps you plan time for content creation as well. If you know that you will be posting every Tuesday, you can set aside 2-3 hours every Monday to focus on content creation, scheduling, and social media publication. If you know you post every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, you can schedule a full day at the end of each week to prepare for the next.

This kind of time is hard to set aside when you’re running from behind – and blogging, like so many tasks that offer incremental benefits – falls to the bottom of the to do list too easily if you let it.

And if you’re unsure of next steps or how to keep your content moving into the funnel quickly enough to feed your schedule, download our blog creation checklist. It will help you prepare for and get new content out regularly without stressing over missed deadlines.