Monthly Archives: April 2014

Optimize Your Video Content: A Simple 5-Step Process


video box-colorful skyscrapers-cloudsDespite the popularity of video, there’s still a common misconception that you can create tons of video content, throw it up on YouTube, and pray to the marketing gods that it attracts attention. However, this kind of wishful thinking is crazy. Video marketing involves more work. It has to be timely, relevant, memorable, and most importantly, optimized if you’re going to see any return on investment.

Just as you optimize landing pages and build full campaigns around a piece of written content to ensure it performs, you have to do the same with videos. In other words, you can’t bank on “going viral,” but you can add some leading-edge customization to video content to make sure it drives business.

That said, here are five steps to make sure every video you create is fully optimized for maximum performance once it’s released into the wild:

Step 1: Design videos with the goal in mind

Before the concept of a video marketing platform existed, everyone seemed to think a video could only be used for brand awareness. However, a strategic and purposeful video can actually guide leads through the sales funnel and enhance conversion — you just have to align your video’s concept to specific goals right from the start.

To plan a purposeful video, first determine:

  • The emotions you want to evoke and why (fear, excitement, and greed are a few that work especially well)
  • The target buyer personas to which the video will appeal
  • The actions you want your leads to take based on the content they consume

These considerations lead to a more focused, actionable video. For example, if you evoke an emotion such as fear or anxiety (e.g., “Oh no! My current solution doesn’t offer that critical feature!“), you can appeal to the pain points of your audience and get your prospects to take the actions you want (e.g., “Yes, I want to register for the webinar!”)

There are many companies that are doing an especially good job evoking emotion through storytelling for exactly this purpose. One of my favorite examples is Adobe’s Click Baby Clickvideo ad. This video showcases an overzealous CEO of an encyclopedia company getting excited about a massive spike in web traffic and online orders for his product:

As you can see, the end of the narrative cuts to a baby tapping furiously on an iPad, and Adobe cleverly asks, “Do you know what your marketing is doing?” It successfully uses a funny story about misinterpreting data to evoke a fear and imply we’re all missing something if we don’t use the advertised product. This is the kind of emotion you need to drive with purposeful video content.

Step 2: Build calls to action — and a way for leads to follow up

How many times have you reached the end of a product video only to find it fades to black? Although marketers know the importance of a call to action, they seem to be missing from a lot of today’s video content.

Before you release your next video, make sure you have included specific calls to action.

Such CTAs could include:

  • A series of YouTube annotations pointing to different resources
  • A direct prompt from the video’s host
  • A short link at the end of the video directing viewers to a landing page

Some CTA best practices: As an example, when marketing a recent event, we created a video and embedded it on a landing page. Directly beside this eye-catching video we included three different calls to action:

vidyard at dreamforce-cta example

You’ll notice that our CTAs:

  1. Prompted event attendees to set up a call
  2. Prompted a product walk-through via schedule a demo
  3. Prompted viewers to visit our product page to see more related content

This example demonstrates that your CTAs should not only be direct, but they should also include different ways that your buyer personas might want to reach out to you.The point of conversion might not be a demo (the decision maker might not be ready), so use at least two CTAs — one for leads ready to proceed and one leading to more of your persuasive content.

Step 3: Set up a lead-capture method

Another feature that’s moved directly from the written content world into the video content world is the email gate and lead-capture form. Once you have your video ready to go, it’s important to consider including an email gate because these will go wherever your content is shared on social networks, providing a simple way to find out which leads are interested enough to willingly give you their personal information.

Additionally, some video marketing platforms let you build contact forms to include at the end of your videos. Basically, you can collect multiple fields of information in addition to the viewer’s email address.

Here’s an example of what an email gate might look like:

email gate-example

Best practices for video lead capture:

  • Use email gates on content that targets users who are lower in the funnel (like highly detailed or lengthy product demos). Because an email gate requires some buy-in from viewers, you’ll want to make sure you’ve warmed leads up with quality un-gated content before asking for their info.
  • Don’t use too many fields when setting up an end-of-video contact form — you don’t want to fatigue your potential prospects before they complete your form.

Step 4: Add key information for SEO

SEO can be a tricky beast, in part due to the frequent algorithm updates from Google; but making your videos more search-friendly is easy if you focus on these three things:

  1. Keywords and descriptions: Using Google’s Adwords Planner, do some initial research on the words you’d like to rank for within your industry and use those words in a clear phrase format for your video’s title and in your meta descriptions. Choose something people are likely to search for (e.g., “world’s best invoicing and payments software“) instead of something you think sounds clever or catchy (e.g., “payments for pals!“)
  2. Transcripts: Because YouTube and Google don’t extract all of the words from your videos, search engines can’t be 100 percent sure of the subject matter in your videos. To help with video SEO, try transcribing your video (or use a service) and turn the video’s accompanying text into a blog post. This way the blog post featuring your video will alert search engines about the context, and Google will qualify your relevant content.
  3. Multi-platform promotion: After you have embedded your video on your site, put it up on YouTube and other distribution outlets with a different title. Because YouTube and Google are the two top search engines, you don’t want to cannibalize your SEO efforts, so tweak your content just slightly to take advantage of both.

Step 5: Analyze your performance, and plan future content

The final step to getting the most out of your video content marketing is to take a look at some analytics. If you’re creating lots of videos, you’ll want to consider investing in a video marketing platform that provides access to this detailed data. Interpreting your prospects’ digital behavior is the key to making informed decisions about future content. It’s only by analyzing who is watching specific videos, and for how long, that you’ll see which topics are resonating, and you’ll start to understand ways to modify your content strategy based on how your content typically performs.

For example, one of the best metrics to track is your average lead’s attention span. If you notice that prospects are dropping off 10 seconds into your videos, this could signify that that your intros may be too long, and so you might want to try trimming them down and getting to the main discussion more quickly.

Overall, valuable video marketing data is able to show you whether your leads are truly engaged, and which parts of your content strategy need work based on your audience’s digital behavior.

So try the optimization process

Next time you send your videos off to their various destinations, try implementing each of these five steps. By streamlining the process you use to make effective use of your content for lead capture, sales enablement, SEO, and measurement, you’ll notice a dramatic difference in how video performs throughout the buying cycle.

Author: Michael Litt

Michael Litt is the CEO and co-founder of Vidyard, a video marketing platform helping marketers measure the impact of their video content. Thought leader, surfer, and serial entrepreneur, Michael is passionate about content marketing and changing the way we engage and purchase with video. Chat with Michael onTwitter or LinkedIn to learn more.

The Entrepreneur’s Blueprint for Content Creators


reddit-ohanian

The following is my account of his conversation:

Tom Friedman has a clever title in talking about globalization (i.e., The World Is Flat)… but the internet is much flatter than the world could ever be. As a technology, it is just transferring ones and zeroes. It is instant and vast, and connected to every single human being who has a connection. It is going to make it much easier for people to bring great ideas into the world. That’s why I wrote the book: I just want to see people achieve their maximum level of awesome.

At the same time, the internet has a lot of noise. We have some good tools for finding the signal… reddit, Twitter, Facebook. But they are not perfect. Some people are going to have a lot of success building other platforms that help us discover what is interesting to us… what is good and what is cool, and what is new and funny or what have you. But it’s really on us to always be making good stuff.

Only your mom is really going to care about what you’ve made. Everyone else has to be convinced.

If we focus on adding value to people’s lives, I really do believe that things that should have an audience will.

Somewhere out there there’s someone who spent her life obsessing over staplers. (I’m making this up, of course.) There’s probably a community of people who love staplers… vintage staplers. There is someone out there who, by all accounts, should be able to actually make a living being an authority on this particular thing. If there’s a community out there for it, the internet will be pretty good at connecting her to the people who obsess over staplers. She could be the Anna Wintour for the stapler world. It sounds absurd, but this stuff is happening right now.

I don’t actively use Pinterest, but enough friends of mine have used it for planning weddings and told me they’ve stumbled upon amazing content curators who have been world changing with how helpful they were. With the flattening of the internet, you will absolutely see more of these niche communities rise up and sustain creators, sustain tastemakers in a way that just wasn’t possible before. Content creators a generation ago were limited to people who had all the resources. Today, someone really can just start taking photographs and three years later be one of the most viewed photographers in the world (see Humans of New York).

Right now the mechanisms for monetizing are crude. What users really want is to reward the tastemakers, the creatives, the curators, for the great stuff they do. It’s going to inspire other entrepreneurs to say, “Let’s do better than banner ads and referral links.

I’m an investor in a platform, Patreon. They’ve looked at Kickstarter and said, “What if we could find a way to get people to subscribe to creatives and tastemakers who they really like and just pay them money to produce original amazing content every week?” Jack Conte of Pomplamoose is already getting $6,000 per video based on crowd-funded contributions — with subscriptions that start for as little as a dollar. It’s cool to me because it’s a new approach to monetization that is not at odds with the user base.

Native advertising (sponsored content) is not the end game… but at least it is getting advertisers in the right mindset, which is, “Make things people want.” Advertisers need to think this way. They can’t get away with being lazy. We’ve been advertising the same way for a hundred years, but the 20th Century playbook just can’t last in a world where users have ultimate power. The back button is the enemy. We have to be better than a cat photo. I think of that when I wear my marketing hat and ask, “How do I get people to love Hipmunk or reddit or any of this stuff?” If you’re not actually creating something that people want, they’re going to go right back to cat photos. They’re going to ignore you or worse, they’re going to hate you. So, step it up.

reddit, decoded

The social news and entertainment site Alexis Ohanian co-founded in 2005 has more than 80 million unique monthly visitors and 4.7 billion monthly page views. Redditors (reddit editors) up-vote and down-vote content, thereby deciding what content makes it to the front page on the site (the so-called “front page of the internet”). Content is also organized into topic areas called “subreddits.” Over time, redditors accumulate points (called karma) if their content, links, or comments are upvoted. More karma, more influence.

Reddit is perhaps best known to non-redditors for the site’s live AMAs or “Ask Me Anything,” in which a famous or infamous person invites users to ask anything in a fast-moving conversation among thousands. Bill Gates’s AMA, for example, spawned 27,000 comments. But AMAs also include those who simply capture the imagination, such as Allena Hansen, who was severely mauled by a bear but managed to drive herself to get help. The conversations can be both touching and absurd, but because of reddit’s up-vote/down-vote methodology, even massive threads like these are easy to navigate.

LinkedIn Moves to Dominate Content Publishing


pnr-this old marketing logoPNR: 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 talk about some bigcontent publishing news: LinkedIn is opening up its publishing program for all users. We also discuss BuzzFeed’s advice for content success, analyze the implications of Sprinklr’s purchase of Dachis, and share content marketing examples from Toyota and Chevron, before exploring a This Old Marketingexample of the week from Thomas Edmonds.

This week’s show

(Recorded live on February 24, 2014; Length: 53:27)

Download this week’s PNR This Old Marketing podcast.

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Show overview

1. Content Marketing in the News

  • ABC News Thinks LEGO Is Out for Oscar (2:15): The 2014 Academy Award nominees have yet to hit the red carpet, yet The LEGO Movie is already being considered a front-runner for Best Animated Feature in 2015 (contributing article:abcnews.com).
  • LinkedIn Opens Up Publishing to Everyone (3:45): LinkedIn announced that it is gradually going to grant publishing rights on the platform to all its members, bringing a whole new dimension to the possibilities in brand publishing (contributing article: LinkedIn).
  • BuzzFeed’s Content Marketing Secrets Revealed (9:04): BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti shares its three key principles for successful content marketing: creating longer posts, moving focus away from vanity metrics, and embracing the power of video content (contributing article: eMarketing Association).
  • Sprinklr Buys Dachis Group (14:30): Part of our ongoing exploration of content marketing and social media M&As, Robert discusses this new deal’s impact on content marketers (contributing article: AdWeek).
  • An Amazon-Branded Set-Top Box Seems Likely (20:30): Yes, it seems that Amazon is set to join Apple and Microsoft in the battle for connected-home dominance (contributing article: Mashable).
  • Pandora and Toyota Partner on Content (25:00): Toyota launches an audio content marketing initiative with Pandora (contributing article: iMediaConnection).
  • Chevron Continues Local News Site in Richmond, Calif., (29.55): Robert and I explore the growing trend of brands taking over local news reporting (contributing site: Richmond Standard). (A special shout-out to Rachel Gregg for sending this our way.)

2. Rants & Raves (33:20)

  • Joe’s Rant: I take Greg Satell to task for his Forbes post on the history of content marketing, in which he expresses his belief that content strategy is overrated. I also summarize a recent rant I wrote for LinkedIn about the WhatsApp purchase and job growth.
  • Robert’s Rave: Robert heavily researched Sports Illustrated‘s new swimsuit issue (!), and uncovered some ways content marketers can follow in the footsteps of this successful content brand.

3. Listener Question (42:45)

This week’s question comes from Jonathan Bean via Twitter (Thanks Jonathan!)

Is there any difference between brand journalism and content marketing — love your view?#thisoldmarketing

Robert and I also discuss James Gardner’s email question on the significance of Yahoo! seeking to upgrade its ad standards (contributing article: NYTimes).

4. This Old Marketing Example of the Week (48:50)

  • In 1908, New Zealander Thomas Edmonds first published the Edmonds Cookery Book to support his Edmonds baking powder product. The book first started in print, but as Edmonds’ product line has expanded over the years, so too have itsonline content offerings. (A special shout-out to Brendon Livingstone for sharing this great example with PNR.)

edmonds-cookery-book-content-publishing

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

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Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi considers himself the poster boy for content marketing. Founder of the Content Marketing Institute, Joe evangelizes content marketing around the world through keynotes, articles, tweets and his books, Managing Content Marketing and Get Content Get Customers. Joe’s latest book is Epic Content Marketing (McGraw-Hill). If you want to get on his good side, send him something orange. For more on Joe, check out his personal site or follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

7 Ways to Respond to Plagiarism as the Content Creator


ski-masked man at computerIf you weren’t a content marketer, you wouldn’t know, but content creation is hard work.

It’s not just the long hours of research, writing, and editing. It’s the always-on mode your brain is in, looking for insight and inspiration everywhere. “Could this be an idea for a blog post? No, I’m just reading the menu at the Olive Garden.” If you do content, you know what I mean.

That’s why we get angry when people copy us.

It’s happened to me many times. Sadly, plagiarism in the world of the content creator is very common. It’s easy to find if you know where to look. It’s so easy that I should caution you about reading this post: One likely outcome is outrage, since it’s very possible that you’re a victim. Still reading? Ok, but you’ve been warned.

It starts small

Our story begins with an email I got two years ago from a web design company in North Carolina. Basically, it said that a small company in Wisconsin had plagiarized its content — and some of mine as well. (Actually, there were three of us who had been copied in the letter.)

The other two businesses already had a plan to respond, which involved sending some incendiary emails, but taking no real legal action. Once these emails were sent, the offending website made a lame excuse and took down the content. Happy ending, right? Not quite.

How to find plagiarized content

During the process, I asked how they happened to notice the offender. It was a tiny company. There was no way they could have stumbled across it. How’d they find it?

It turns out that there are easy, free, fast ways to find plagiarized copy, also known as duplicate content. For example, there’s Copyscape. Just type in a URL and this tool will show you all the places where your page has been copied. That’s it.

Technology makes it so easy to find plagiarism, you’d have to be an idiot to try to get away with it.

So I thought I’d give it a try. I put in the address of my home page and clicked submit. When I saw the results, I almost fell out of my chair.

They copied our entire site!

There were about a dozen websites that had copied the text from our home page. That’s not good. However, amongst those was a site that went far beyond that.

In this instance, our layout, our navigation, our images — everything was there, with only minor changes. It was like seeing our site in a fun-house mirror. It was published by a web design and marketing company in another city, and it was a blatant fraud.

What to do about plagiarism

Plagiarism is a crime. Federal copyright laws (among other regulations) protect content creators. However, finding a lawyer may not get you far. I recommend taking the following steps (in this exact order) until the problem has been fixed or your rage subsides — whichever comes first.

Tip: If you want proof in your pocket that you wrote the copy first, use the Wayback Machine at Archive.org. It’s easy to show that you are the originator. If Copyscape is Exhibit A, the Wayback Machine is Exhibit B.

Time to make your case:

  1. Pick up the phone, if you can find a number: I highly recommend this. It’s good to be direct. It’s also fun to hear a plagiarist squirm. Just tell them what they copied, how you found it, and ask what they plan to do. In 90 percent of the cases, they’ll stammer an excuse, apologize, and then take down the copied text. 
  1. Send a “Cease and Desist” letter: This is step one in the legal process. The cost is low and it shows you’re serious. We’ve included a sample letter below. This should get a quick response. It might be contrite. It might be rude, but they’ll likely remove the content and the process will end here. 
  1. Notify their chamber of commerce: The mission of chambers is to promote and support good business. A good chamber will want to know if a member is taking shortcuts or breaking the law. 
  1. Write a one-star review on Google: This may sound extreme, but there is nothing unethical about giving a poor review to a sketchy business. I would reserve this for plagiarists who refuse to remove the copied content. 
  1. Send their host a “take down” letter: This is the remedy for copyright infringement in the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. Use a look-up service to find the host and atemplate for the take down letter. Then just fax it in. 
  1. Report them to Google: Legal action is serious; Google blacklisting is cataclysmic. Welcome to the nuclear option. Here’s the request form for removal of content from Google. 
  1. Sue for damages: When all else fails, we have the courts (though honestly, the costs will likely outweigh the benefits).

Note: The Better Business Bureau will not get involved. It is concerned only with issues between businesses and their customers. Incidentally, the company that copied our website has an A+ rating in the BBB!

What we did

To make it official, we had our attorney handle the communication. There were letters, phone calls, excuses, and promises. The initial response was ignorance, not denial. They told us they had outsourced their design (strange for a web design company to outsource their own website) and their vendor must have copied us.

Eventually, they changed the design and the text. It still looked like an evil twin to our own site, but we dropped it. Our total cost in legal fees was around $2,500. We moved on. (If you’re interested in the gritty details, including screenshots, you can see the full story here.)

Was it worth a few thousand dollars? It’s an interesting question. It depends on how damaging the plagiarism is. Aside from branding and copyright protection issues, there are a few marketing implications.

Is getting plagiarized harmful in terms of SEO? What about duplicate content?

Not usually. The duplicate content penalty does exist, but it is widely misunderstood. As long as Google can tell that your version came first, you should be OK. In my experience, you are only at risk of a penalty if both these criteria are present:

  • The duplicate versions went live at almost the exact time as the original.
  • There are hundreds of duplicate versions.

I once saw a site removed from Google’s index completely, but it was because a lazy PR firm copied the home page of a newly launched website into a press release. They pushed it through the online newswires, and instantly there were hundreds of versions of the brand new site. The website was manually removed from Google. Blacklisted! But that’s a story for another post…

Legitimate content curation, and even spam-like content scrapers aren’t likely to affect your SEO. If anything, there could be an indirect benefit. If there are links back to your other content in an article that gets scraped, there will be new links back to your site (though if links from low-quality sites in random Asian countries is part of your content plan, you have bigger problems).

What about “spun” content? Is that bad?

If the article is significantly changed, it’s not plagiarism. If 75 percent of it is rewritten, it will pass the test for originality with both Google and the law. Don’t be tempted by content spinning software, though. That’s spam.

There is such a thing as ethical content spinning. Rewriting something from a new perspective is a way to create new content quickly. Professor Handley would call this “reimagining content.” Better yet, recreate the piece in another format (see the Periodic Table of Contentfor ideas).

Sample Cease and Desist letter

Just last week, a friend of mine, Susan Silver, discovered plagiarism of her own site, Argentum Strategy. The letter she sent is a good example of a response. With her permission, I offer it below. Please note that before sending this, Susan contacted her attorney and got his permission to “take his name in vain.”

sample letter

Ongoing protection

If you want to monitor ongoing plagiarism, Copyscape has a paid option called CopySentry that will email you a report. I tried this and found evidence of plagiarism once or twice per month, on average. Eventually, I wrote a standard email, and usually, I’d hear back with an apology. (I’ll admit — eventually we got bored and stopped monitoring.)

What about you? Ever been tempted to copy a beautiful bit of copy? Ever been plagiarized? Let’s hear your story — but please make it original!

Author: Andy Crestodina

Andy Crestodina is the Strategic Director of Orbit Media, a web design companyin Chicago. Andy is also an instructor for the Content Marketing Institute Online Training and Certification program. You can find Andy on  and Twitter.

The Artist’s Perspective: Collaborating on Content Creation


man with camera-artist-content creationThomas Hawk’s hauntingly beautiful — and often gritty — photography is admired across the world. He calls himself a “photography factory” and aims to capture 1 million photos before he dies. Among his favorites are images of American cities, particularly those in various states of decay: “I think people will want to go back in the future and remember a different type of America; a place that was unique to their timeframe,” he says.

But to say Hawk is revered for his art is only partially true. He’s also an avid blogger who writes about a wide range of issues, including new media, technology, creative commons, and copyright law. With a massive fan base across Flickr and Google+ in particular (more than 6.5 million followers), Hawk is sought by brands to photograph events and locations, and share this visual content with his audience. Yet, Hawk cautions: “Don’t ask artists to shill your story.”

Clare McDermott: How do you work with brands outside of traditional photo licensing agreements?

Thomas Hawk: I’ve had a lot of inquiries over the years to shoot specific commercial things, and I’m not interested in that, so I’ve turned down almost all of that work. I really want to shoot what I want to shoot.

I’m not in it for the money. What I’m interested in more than anything is access. When JBL [the premium speaker and audio company] sponsored the music festival Coachella last year, they gave me a press pass and I was able to get all these photographs of great bands. Dell asked me to fly out and shoot the Austin City Limits Music Festival. I wouldn’t have had that level of access without its corporate sponsorship.

I don’t want to just go shoot some random boring event; but if there’s some unique opportunity (for example, I love live music) or access to something that I wouldn’t have otherwise as a photographer, I’ll do a lot of that. I don’t get paid for those. I don’t ask for money. Typically they only cover hotel and airfare.

McDermott: Any other interesting ways that you are seeing brands work with artists, aside from live events?

Hawk: I’m seeing more and more brands asking photographers to create authentic content. I went to Detroit with Ford and shot the North American International Auto Show the year before last. I also went and shot the Cosmopolitan Hotel before it opened and flooded pictures all over Flickr. How often do you get to shoot a completely empty multimillion-dollar casino? The brand gets a lot of really nice photos on Flickr and other platforms, as well as a built-in social network. When people do searches for the Cosmopolitan Hotel, they see images that look really good. If it works out, it’s a win-win; they provide something to the photographer and, again, it doesn’t have to be about money.

I’ve had companies before say, “We’ll give you $6,000 if you write three blog posts about this lens.” I have no interest in that. But if you can provide me access to create interesting content, I’m all for it.

 

McDermott: How should a brand approach an artist?

Hawk: It can be as easy as just reaching out, but you’ve got to be careful. I’ll get blind emails saying, “We want you to promote our stuff.” It sounds very commercial, and it’s a turnoff. There are brands that do it well. Scott Monty at Ford, for instance, does a wonderful job as its Head of Social Media. Scott has built relationships with a lot of artists, so when you get an email from him with a request, it’s a very friendly and welcome email. Rather than cold-pitching bloggers, photographers or artists, brands would have a lot more success if they designate someone to build the relationship.

Essentially, brands have to think creatively and figure out how to work with an artist beyond “Here’s some cash.” They need to think about what they can bring to the artist, what kind of opportunity or collaboration.

McDermott: You archive your photographs on platforms like Flickr and Google+ at a rate that’s somewhat staggering. (Nearly 90,000 on Flickr to date.)

Hawk: My primary objective with my own work and art is to distribute it as widely as possible in the world. The internet is one big distribution source, and it allows me to connect directly with millions of people. Before, you had to rely on gatekeepers and curators — whether a gallery owner, museum curator or whatever — and it was very difficult to achieve a mass audience and following. Now it’s so much easier.

McDermott: Are you partial to one photo-sharing social network versus the others?

Hawk: I was very vocal and very critical of Flickr for many years, primarily because I saw so much potential for Flickr and no innovation all the years Yahoo! owned them. Since Marissa Mayer joined Yahoo!, Flickr has become a major turnaround story. I’ve grown from one of Flickr’s biggest critics to one of its biggest fans. Markus Spiering, the head of product at Flickr, has done tremendously positive things since he’s taken over.

I do love Google+. It’s probably my favorite social network right now, especially for imagery. Photography is one of the most engaging types of content on the web.  It’s super easy to go down a page and “+1″ 10 photos.  It takes a bit longer to read an article and decide if you want to “+1″ it. Imagery, because it moves so quickly and you can say so much very simply, appeals to our desire to see beautiful and interesting things. Google has recognized that.

I also love what Facebook is doing. If you think back of where Facebook has been, three years or so ago photos were tiny little postage stamp size things on Facebook. Now, look at them. With the Instagram purchase, they understand the power of photography. Even Twitter had said recently it’s going to make photos bigger and better.

Photography is becoming a language unto itself. People talk back and forth to each other with photos, even more than words.

3 Visual Content Lessons from Thomas Hawk

Don’t ask an artist to shill your brand: Purely promotional collaborations won’t be of interest to established artists. Instead, offer access — be it to a music festival, a new city, or an off-limits location. Virgin American offered Hawk travel expenses paid to Toronto. The result: Stunning photos of Toronto that both Virgin and Hawk are proud to share.
A great collaboration benefits brand and artist: When the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas asked Hawk to photograph on location before it opened to the public, Hawk jumped at the chance to capture the massive, empty casino. The result: Hundreds of beautiful and unusual images flooding social media leading up to the hotel’s opening.
Build long-term relationships: The best way to understand what an individual artist may be willing to do is to get to know him or her. Cold requests may be viewed with skepticism. Explains Hawk, “Scott Monty at Ford has built relationships with a lot of artists, so when you get an email from him with a request, it’s a very friendly and welcome email.”

Creating Content that Speaks Volumes in Multiple Languages


keyboard-multiple languagesIf you work in a global marketplace, you will need to create multilingual content — and by that I mean content that is created in whatever native language your customers speak, not just English!

This is important for two reasons:

  1. Content is most effective when it leverages the full power of the language it is written in, including puns, local references, alliteration, etc. If you just speak to your global customers in their second language (in most cases English), you will fail to engage them with the words and phrases that have the most cultural and linguistic significance for them.
  1. Search engine optimization (SEO) is more important than ever, and creating content in a non-English language will help you rank in SERPs (search engine result pages) served in that language. This is especially true if your competitors aren’t creating multilingual content — and any edge you can gain in the world of SEO is one worth pursuing.

But many marketers don’t see the value in creating multilingual content. I work in the Middle East, and the vast majority of companies develop content solely in English, despite the vast and affluent Arabic-speaking population. Indeed, Arabic content constitutes just 2 percent of global digital content (as of 2013, per ESCWA) despite being the native tongue of 290 million plus people! That is an enormous market to leave untapped.

So why aren’t we creating multilingual content? The primary reason is that it can be difficult and expensive to create content in multiple languages, especially when English-only content has always seemed to be “good enough.” But there are ways to create multilingual content in a cost-effective manner; below you will find a process to do just that:

Preparing for multilingual content creation

In an ideal situation, you should have the following personnel involved in multilingual content creation:

  • A native speaking editor
  • A native speaking writer/creator
  • A global lead

Having a dedicated editor and writer who are native speakers of your target language is incredibly important for producing effective, quality content marketing. Not only will they be more familiar with the nuances of the language, but their work will likely benefit from being created in an environment where they can receive feedback from other team members who share their area of expertise.

Ideally, your writer should not only speak the target language, but also the local dialect of the audience you want to engage with your content. For example, there is a great variance in the Arabic dialect spoken around the Gulf region; there are also significant differences between the Spanish that is spoken in Spain and what might be spoken in Ecuador, or Mexico. Of course, this isn’t always practical given budgetary pressures.

I also recommend that you stay well away from translation services or software, as this tends to create stilted content that loses meaning (often with hilarious BuzzFeed-worthy results).

The process for multilingual content creation

This process of multilingual content creation is laid out below, and it can be applied to copy, infographics, white papers, or any other form of content marketing.

global content creation process

Step 1: A global marketing lead commissions a piece of content and articulates the key points she wants to see covered. A full briefing form should be developed that communicates the purpose and goals for that particular piece of content, including:

  • Key marketing messages
  • Audience personas
  • Details on desired style and tone of voice
  • A rough outline of the proposed article topic and conversation

Additionally, the global lead should provide any data and media assets that need to be included in the work, such as statistics, links, pictures, logos, etc.

Step 2: The native-speaking editor takes the brief and translates it into the target language before sending it along to the native-speaking content creator/writer.

Step 3: The writer creates content based on the brief, and returns the copy to the editor for review.

Step 4: The editor reviews the content against the brief to make sure all required points have been covered, and suggests changes and corrects minor/factual errors. The editor and the creator go back and forth until they are both satisfied with the final product.

Step 5: Finally, the editor returns the brief to the global lead (who presumably cannot speak the native language) and confirms that all desired aspects have been completed accurately. The piece of content goes live, and is tracked and assessed based upon your company’s regular measurement practices.

But wait… My budget can’t cover all this!

The process sketched out above is an ideal, and you won’t be able to execute it in every instance, especially if you need to develop content in several different languages all at the same time. You may also need to adapt some steps to fit with your regular content marketing processes, which might involve additional tasks (e.g., creating an editorial calendar, conducting market research, tailoring content for delivery on certain platforms, etc.).

For these reasons, I recommend you start your multilanguage program slowly, rolling out content in one new language at a time. This will give your team time to refine the process as you move forward, as well as an opportunity to demonstrate the success that will justify your continued efforts.

If necessary, you can also streamline the process above by combining the roles of multilingual editor and writer. In this situation, your multilingual editor would receive the brief from the global lead, and would then create and self-edit the content without having to first translate the brief.

However, while this may reduce your staffing costs, there are downsides to this model, as well — primarily that it eliminates the checks and balances of a team effort, and may result in mistakes slipping through the cracks. To combat this, you can periodically contract a second native speaker to edit, assess and score random, individual content pieces against the brief (think of it like an impromptu spot-check from the health inspector at your local café). This will keep your editors on their toes and also give them valuable feedback on their work.

Rapid-fire content creation

Some of the best content marketing happens when brands can leverage evolving news stories and trends in their content. You will want to do this in all your markets, sometimes with topics that are only relevant in one locality. This is a significant challenge, as the process outlined above works best with content that has been planned against an editorial calendar and has a bit of scheduling flexibility.

My advice here is to only pursue “newsjacking” opportunities once you have multilingual editors who are confident and have a track record of good judgment. Then, you will need to provide them with a clear brief about what type of stories they can react to, and how to do so in a way that is appropriate for your brand. They can then be given leeway to create content on the spur of the moment — provided it aligns with their briefing. You should also consider asking your editors to run all content ideas by your global lead before publishing them — even if it’s just a late-night text to make sure they have sign-off.

A worthwhile investment

Investing in multilingual content is crucial. It will allow you to engage with customers and present them with a brand image that speaks to them in words they truly understand.

The process defined above will require an investment, but if your business is serious about penetrating non-English-speaking markets, and serious about doing so with quality content marketing, it’s a sacrifice you won’t regret making.

Author: Ian Humphreys

Ian Humphreys is a regional director for Caliber, an organic marketing agency with offices in London, Dubai and Edinburgh; he heads up Caliber’s Dubai office. Ian has developed award-winning content marketing campaigns for some of the world’s biggest brands including Ticketmaster, Tesco and TUI. He writes about the concepts and processes that lie behind effective content marketing. Contact Ian at ian.humphreys@caliberi.com or on LinkedIn.

5 Tips for Quality Content Creation That Won’t Bust Your Budget


bow-arrow image-quality content creationWith more marketers focusing on content creationand more people communicating on social media, every piece of content you distribute has to break through the clutter and grab your audience members in a way that predisposes them to choose your message over one that comes from your competition.

It’s not just about capturing attention — if it were, all you would need to do is consistently post a bunch of cat videos; but that’s not exactly going to help you achieve your key business goals, now is it?

Content quality sets your content marketing apart

While cute cats are great, if your business is serious about attracting more readers — and higher rankings on search engines — you need to focus on content quality.

Research by Disruptive Communications in 2013 revealed that audiences care about the quality of your content. Here are two key findings that underscore that point:

  • Forty percent of respondents admitted that poor spelling and grammar reduced their favorable impression of a brand. Yes that’s right. The writing you studied in grade school really does matter to your target audience.
  • Twenty-five percent of respondents feel that brands’ social media updates are too salesy. What’s surprising here is that the percentage isn’t higher. Both content marketing and social media communications should be void of any promotional message. In other words, skip the sales talk.

As a marketer with a limited budget, the good news about focusing on quality content creation is that you don’t need to think in terms of producing more content but rather in terms of making each piece of content more effective.

Therefore, it may be time to rethink your organization’s processes to enable higher-quality content creation. For example:

  • For larger organizations, this might mean working to bridge your organizational silos. With better team alignment, you can eliminate duplicated efforts and produce content that addresses higher-level marketing goals.
  • For smaller organizations, this might mean planning ahead to find opportunities to create multiple pieces of content simultaneously, which will reduce your content creation costs.

5 tips to improve content quality without busting your budget

Here are five content marketing tips that will help you raise the quality of your content without significantly increasing your costs:

1. Perform a company-wide content audit: The aim here is to determine what effective content your organization has, what content is outdated or needs freshening up, and what information is missing from your existing offerings. To do this well and keep content costs down, think holistically across your entire organization:

  • Catalog all of your content to determine what you have: Include content and communications from outside of the marketing department. You may have useful information in your sales manual, but it’s not going to do your company much good if no one knows it’s there, just waiting to be leveraged.
  • Assess each piece of content to determine what to delete, what to revise, and what works well as-is: Examine your existing content assets with a critical eye. Think about low-cost ways you can enhance what you have or make it have greater impact.
  • Determine where there are gaps in your current content assets: Are there topics you aren’t covering, or information that you aren’t providing for your readers? Based on what you’ve learned during your audit, make a list of new ideas that you might want to focus your next content efforts on.

2. Develop a company-wide editorial calendar: In many companies, only the marketing department uses an editorial calendar to track its content creation efforts. But to improve content quality cost-effectively, it’s helpful to develop a calendar that tracks your content activities across the entire enterprise. This higher-level view of your company’s content creation efforts will help you identify opportunities to unite the efforts and resources of various teams, eliminate waste from duplicated efforts, and extend the value and impact of the content you do create.

In larger firms, coordinating an enterprise-wide calendar may require a chief content officer — someone who would have first-hand knowledge of company-wide goals — and access to the team members who will be most essential in coordinating everyone’s efforts.

To develop an editorial calendar that functions across the entire organization, start with these three steps:

  • Determine what types of content will work best to support your overarching promotion goals
  • Examine the content, social media, and other marketing-related assets you have at your disposal.
  • Identify all areas of your organization where information needs to be shared, such as sales, customer service, product development, website development, human resources, and investor relations. The object is to turn all communications into effective content marketing pieces, thereby increasing your content production without adding costs.

For example, instead of a traditional annual report, Warby Parker found a great way to turn a dull annual report into an engaging piece of content:

image-warby parker history

3. Plan your content creation efforts in advance: The goal is to create multiple pieces on related topics all at the same time. Where appropriate, develop marketing and corporate content simultaneously — this reduces costs since you are combining your efforts. You can also break a larger piece of content down into multiple, smaller pieces, thereby further extending your budget.

For example, Kelly Services repurposed one of its white papers into three different SlideShare presentations, each focusing on a different part of the conversation. In total, these three presentations generated 10,000 views, 1,000 new subscribers and 250 sales-accepted leads. Results that you can take to the bank!
4. Develop a plan for distributing content efficiently and effectively: Don’t just publish! Have a plan to ensure that your content will reach the broadest audience possible:

  • Make each piece of content contextually relevant to the platform on which it will appear: Also, consider whether the content will render well across most commonly used devices and screen sizes (think smartphone and tablets).
  • Include a relevant call-to-action: Remember your goal is to get readers to take the next step in your purchase process.

5. Be prepared to track your content marketing results: Check that your content quality efforts are improving your response and decreasing your costs in other marketing areas. Specifically, consider the number of leads your content is generating, as well as measuring the number of qualified leads and sales against your content marketing expenses.

Streamline your content creation across your organization to ensure that you create top-quality information that your target audience wants and needs, while eliminating duplicate and other wasteful efforts. By doing this you should be able to reduce your content marketing costs considerably.

What has your experience been with streamlining your content creation process across your organization? Has it resulted in lower costs and improved content quality?

Author: Heidi Cohen

Heidi Cohen is an actionable marketing expert. As president of Riverside Marketing Strategies, Heidi works with online media companies and e-tailers to increase profitability with innovative marketing programs based on solid analytics. During the course of 20 years, Heidi has obtained deep experience in direct and digital marketing across a broad array of products including soft goods, financial services, entertainment, media entities and crafts-oriented goods. Heidi shares her actionable marketing insights on her blog. Find Heidi Cohen online at Twitter @heidicohenLinkedIn and Facebook.

5 Standout Examples of Content Marketing in Retail Apps


store map-departmentsWith more and more traffic to websites coming from people who access the internet on mobile devices, it makes sense that companies would increase their use of mobile apps to get content into the hands of their target audiences. Consumers are becoming more accustomed to using apps to find the latest deals and information about products, so why not make it easy for them to find other ways to connect and engage with your brand?

Going beyond the standard functionality for making a purchase or finding a store nearby, the followingexamples of content marketing demonstrate some of the powerful ways retailers can leverage mobile apps to make customers’ lives easier — and make their shopping more time effective — while helping to build lasting customer loyalty.

1. Lowe’s

my lowes-purchase-preferencesThe Lowe’s app features all of your basic functionality (like searching for products, and a store locator), it’s user friendly, and full of ideas to brighten up a home. It also provides a handy item locator to help shoppers navigate the massive showroom and hone in on exactly what they are looking to buy.

However, what sets this app apart, from a content standpoint, is its free “My Lowe’s” feature. My Lowe’s helps busy shoppers remember the details of products they have purchased before — like what size light bulbs they needed for their unique front porch lights. It takes the burden off consumers so they don’t have to recall the specs of each and every household item they shop for at Lowe’s — and it really helps the home improvement retailer lead the pack in providing customers with utility that makes lives easier.

2. Domino’s Pizza

domino's tracker-order taken

The Domino’s App is mostly what you would expect from a pizza shop. But, the feature that makes it a more unique example of content marketing is the Domino’s Tracker. This meter shows exactly what stage your pizza order is in at any given time, So, for example, if a customer is wondering what’s taking his pizza so long to arrive, he can see whether it’s still sitting in the oven, or if the delivery is already on its way. Customers like to see what’s going on so they feel as though they have some control, and this app gives them that level of satisfaction.

3. Teavana Perfect Tea Touch

tea blender-tea choices

Teavana is a specialty tea shop that often occupies shop space in large malls. For tea lovers, it’s a haven of all things good, and the content on the brand’s mobile app helps to encourage these positive brand associations.

For example, the Perfect Tea Touch app has a Tea Blender feature, which allows users to select the type of tea they like and gives specific instructions on how to properly brew that specific blend to get the best flavor. The app also has a tea timer tool that tells users how long to steep their tea, sets a timer, and plays sounds it associates with that particular blend to help pass the time while their tea brews. Other features include a tea blending tool, which offers recommendations to tea lovers who like to mix various flavors together.

4. My Wendy’s

wendy's-nutrition facts

The My Wendy’s app does not provide the typical fast food app experience — for example, customers can’t use it to place orders through their phones. But there’s one particular feature that makes it a standout example of content marketing: its calorie-conscious menu builder. The app lets users set the calorie range they want their meal to fall into, and provides them with a list of items they can select from that will help them keep to their goal. The user can save a customized meal and order it in-store. The app also displays what each item looks like — as well as its full nutritional information. As consumers increasingly look for healthy options at their favorite fast food restaurants, content-focused features like these really demonstrate Wendy’s commitment to serving its customers’ needs.

5. Best Buy

product compare app

What sets Best Buy’s app apart from other mega-retailers’ apps is a few of its more tech-savvy features. For example, the app has a scanner that consumers can use in the store to compare product features and read reviews of those products. Content tools like these can help make in-store decisions easier — a key benefit that may discourage shoppers from doing their research in the closest Best Buy, then going home and purchasing the product online from a competing retailer.

Conclusion

These five apps truly demonstrate brands’  increasing interest in getting their content out to customers in unique ways. Not only are they giving users reason to enjoy using the app, but they are creating a lasting customer bond. Other companies should take note, as mobile content marketing offers tremendous opportunities for them to provide information that is useful to their customers — which helps them gain customer loyalty.

Author: Grace Hendryx

Grace Hendryx completed a short internship with Content Marketing Institute in the Spring of 2014. She is a student at Saint Joseph Academy High School and is thinking about pursuing a career in marketing. She is new to content marketing but takes a strong interest in the field.

Why Marketers Need More Education to Push Content Publishing Forward


keyboard-training-developmentOne of the areas of content publishing that has become voluminous over the last few years is research studies. Whatever you want to know about what marketers are doing, you can find out. Not that research studies are always representative, but when hundreds, or even thousands, of marketers agree on a certain premise, it’s worth considering.

However, lately I’ve seen research studies that are concerning. When I look at the sentiments these studies reflect, and the questions they raise about our industry, I get a bit queasy thinking about whether our profession is as advanced as it should be. I get a sense of inertia — of doing the same things we’ve always done but expecting different results — that makes me wonder if we’re really making progress now that continuous change has become, well, a constant.

Here are a few examples:

The State of B2B Lead Generation 2013, a study conducted by Buyer Zone, asked marketers what they do once a lead is generated. Fifty percent answered that the next step would be to route the lead directly to sales.

What’s notable about this? Well, 21 percent of marketers in the Buyer Zone study said they think the “key game-changer for the future of lead generation” is increasing the quality of lead generation. But, when asked where they would route money if they had an unlimited budget, 31 percent of these marketers said buying more leads would be their most popular choice.

Mass Relevance and The CMO Club asked Fortune 500 CMOs about their priorities and challenges in 2014 in their At The Speed of Life study:

  • 95 percent said that content marketing is important to their business
  • 95 percent believe creating and finding new, timely, and engaging content is one of their biggest challenges in 2014

The fact that the importance of content marketing is realized at the top level, yet marketers are still struggling with creating and finding content shows that companies haven’t addressed the gap that exists between understanding content’s value proposition and knowing what’s needed to capitalize on it. By leaving it up to marketers to figure it out themselves, how much lost opportunity are companies leaving on the table?

In reviewing the first B2B Trends report conducted by MarketingProfs and Junta42 (now CMI) back in 2010, the challenges marketers face have remained eerily similar. That’s over five years! The top challenge in 2010 for 36 percent of marketers was producing engaging content, followed by producing enough content. In the 2014 report, producing engaging content is a challenge for 47 percent of marketers (preceded by lack of time and producing enough content).

Instead of getting better, it’s gotten worse. More marketers are experiencing the same pressing challenges they did in 2010, in addition to new ones. Why do we think this is a situation that will resolve itself? Our current approaches for becoming more confident and effective at content marketing are obviously not working well enough.

Last fall, Adobe released a report — Digital Distress: What Keeps Marketers Up at Night? — in which 1,000 U.S. marketers were asked about their biggest concerns with digital marketing. What the report found is that things are shifting even more quickly than we thought, and our ability to keep up is declining, rather than improving. Yet, even with mounting pressure for improved performance from marketing teams, dedicated training has not yet become a priority.

Some more of the findings from the Adobe report included:

  • 76 percent of marketers think marketing has changed more in the past two years than the past 50
  • Only 40 percent think their company’s marketing is effective
  • 68 percent feel more pressure to show ROI on marketing spend
  • Most marketers don’t have any formal training: 82 percent learn on the job

While there are many areas of shaky confidence in relation to digital marketing, the top two concerns for these marketers were their ability to reach customers and their ability to keep up. And the kicker? Only 9 percent of these marketers agreed with the statement, “I know our digital marketing is working.

There are also a number of studies being done on the changing nature of buyers (from both B2B and B2C perspectives). The problem I see here is that comparing marketer studies with buyer studies doesn’t show that marketers are listening to — or learning from — buyer feedback. This needs to change. Marketers will need to start directing their efforts toward improving capabilities and attaining the necessary core competencies that will enable their marketing programs to reach full potential.

It’s time to shine a light on learning

After evaluating all of the issues that marketers are facing — along with the increasing urgency of content as a top priority — the statistic that stood out the most for me is that 82 percent of marketers say they’re not receiving training. While I’m a huge proponent of learning on the job, I question whether or not that’s enough to prepare today’s marketers to conquer all the challenges they will encounter — now and in the future.

Let’s face it, there are a lot of new skills to be learned. From buyer personas to content marketing strategy to storytelling to social conversations to multi-channel integration and data analysis — to name just a few — what marketers need to know today is much different than what we needed to apply to be successful just a few years ago. When 760 out of 1,000 marketers can agree that marketing has changed more in the last two years than it did in the previous 50, it suggests that there’s been progress at such an accelerated pace that the need for industry training and ongoing professional development is likely outpacing the ability of an organization’s senior-level marketers to provide it for their team members. The need for rapid evolution is clear and pressing.

The State of Digital Marketing Talent study backs up this assumption, stating, “… the results of the study indicate that there is a substantial gap that exists between the need for strong digital marketing talent and the skills that individuals in the field currently bring to the table.”

The question every content marketer needs to answer is: “What am I going to do about it?

Pursue your vast potential

As far as I’m concerned, there’s never been a more important or exhilarating time to be a content marketer. We’ve got opportunities to influence our company’s business strategy, provide a flow of qualified buyers to our sales teams, and take our seats at the executive table because we’re able to quantify the contribution we make to company growth, innovation, and viability. But the marketers of tomorrow won’t be able to hold those seats if we, as an industry, can’t close the gap between the skills we have now and our future ability to produce the outcomes that employers value.

Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to get up to speed. From consultants and coaches to online training courses, conferences, and workshops, the opportunities for content marketing training are abundant. Many of these options can be achieved iteratively in small increments of time that are designed to help you learn what you need right now, and then add to your knowledge as you move forward.

Often, what I hear is that marketers already have a bigger slate of tasks than their day will allow them to manage. That’s an excuse. And, trust me, if a marketing program executed next week (instead of today) is better than it would have been originally, based on newly acquired skills, I’m not really sure what’s keeping marketers from upping their game. How much more evidence do we need before we’re motivated to take action?

Author: Ardath Albee

Ardath Albee, CEO of her firm Marketing Interactions, works with B2B companies with complex sales to help them create eMarketing strategies that use contagious content to turn prospects into buyers. She’s the author of the book eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale and one of the Top 20 Women to Watch in Sales Lead Management in 2011. Find out more at Marketing Interactions. Ardath is also an instructor for the Content Marketing Institute Online Training and Certification program.

Why Your Web Content Strategy Should Include Answering Questions


colorful questions-where?-when?-who?Social networks like Twitter have ushered in a new era of customer-care content. Unfortunately, for many businesses, this has come to mean that a social media manager’s time might be completely consumed by answering customer questions on all of the many platforms on which your company operates. While there will always be a place for social media in crisis management, there are more productive ways for marketers to use their time than by spending it on personally addressing customer complaints.

As an alternative, including carefully compiled frequently-asked questions lists (FAQs) and other Q&A content as part of your web content strategy provides a much greater opportunity to expand your brand’s influence — as having the right people answering the right questions in the right places for your customers can achieve much more for your brand than just damage limitation.

How to find the right questions to answer

There are tons of sources you can mine to get examples of the questions consumers might be asking that are relevant to your business. Here are just a few:

  • Social media
  • Quora
  • Webinars and Google+ Hangouts/Helpouts
  • Tumblr
  • “Ask Me Anything” (Reddit, etc.)
  • Blog comments
  • Internal search functions on your website
  • Keyword search data from Google/Bing Analytics and Webmaster Tools platforms

How to find the right places to answer questions

Yahoo!-owned microblogging platform Tumblr can be a hugely useful Q&A tool. Visitors to a Tumblr blog can be encouraged to leave questions, which, when answered, become individual content pieces.

The value in answering an individual user’s question directly — using owned Q&A platforms like Tumblr, as opposed to rented real estate like Quora — is that one of your influencers has already identified himself, and your response is owned content that can be distributed easily. A glowing review from a person with a few friends can be more powerful than a passing mention from a social media rock star, so it’s worth nurturing a one-to-one relationship with a user that has shown an interest — he may even become a lead.

However, you’ll probably achieve the best content marketing ROI by answering questions on your own site. It’s the first place customers will look when they want to know more about your business, and it’s where you want to direct any kudos you get for lending a helping hand. It’s also why investment in new channels is not necessary when you’re looking to factor Q&A into your web content strategy. Your site’s FAQ section is ideal for this, and the sad truth is that most businesses are not using their FAQ pages to their full potential.

Here are a few content challenges that can be addressed by incorporating Q&A content in your web content strategy:

Problem: Frequently repeated questions

Simply put, if you are frequently being asked the same questions about your product or service, the last place you want to answer that question is on a deep page that may only be accessible via your footer. Instead, you want to add visibility to your answers, so that it’s easier for your potential customers to recognize your interest in addressing their needs.

For example, if you’ve noticed that significant numbers of users seem to be asking a few of the same questions about your company before they buy from you, consider adding content to a highly-accessed section of your site, like your About Us page, to answer them.

If significant numbers of users want to know about your product before they buy it, your copy isn’t working hard enough for you. Your product pages have to explain what needs your product meets; so while obscure questions in FAQ sections are fine (e.g., “Does product X also do this?”), obvious questions are not (e.g., “What does this product do?“).

Problem: FAQ pages are too technical

Many websites use FAQ sections as guides on how to use a product to perform a certain function. There’s nothing wrong with this, and bearing in mind that users will typically use a search engine to find this kind of information, it’s important to host it on your site — it’s standard customer care.

However, just because you may be explaining detailed processes, it doesn’t mean that the content has to be complicated and filled with jargon and tech-speak. In fact, it should be just the opposite. For example:

  • Be sure to include visual content, such as simple diagrams, whenever possible.
  • Provide step-by-step guidance through any complicated processes users may encounter.
  • Be sure your content speaks in a clear, concise way, and avoid using jargon or technical terms that not all readers may understand.
  • Ensure that helpful content is optimized for mobile, as users often want the guide in hand, literally, while they go through the process.
  • Make sure it’s easy to print and email — or consider also offering it as a PDF download to make it easier for readers to share it with others.

By following these suggestions, you can create guide content that serves as a valuable resource, helping your company increase its search traffic — and build affinity by providing information that may help customers make a purchase decision, or be more satisfied with one they’ve already made.

A great platform for answering questions in a step-by-step process is SlideShare, which allows you to condense long-form content into simple and visually engaging conversations. As an additional tip, try embedding your SlideShare presentations on your FAQ pages alongside the other content, giving users a choice of how they would most like to consume your content.

Problem: Unique or complex questions

Demonstrating how your product meets a need is one thing, but your target market has a lotof needs. As a target customer makes his journey from stimulus to experience, he or she may have questions or want information that is specific to a unique situation, or that you may not have anticipated. Make sure it’s easy for consumers to get in touch and ask a question they can’t find the answer to anywhere else – this is the kind of customer service that gets you talked about – but ask for notes from your customer service department whenever they get asked something difficult. There doesn’t have to be a huge number of people asking a particular question, but if you’re the only one answering it, you’re the only one who stands to win customers.

An example of a site with an FAQ section that deals with ambiguous situations like this very well is Virgin Holidays Cruises.

nine categories-cruise info

Its online Cruise Guide maps out its buyer journey, from stimulus to experience, and contains information that is targeted to customers’ various needs through each stage of the purchase process. It’s true that some of the information can be found elsewhere on the web, but the Cruise Guide successfully collates this into a definitive experience and presents it as the story of buying a cruise holiday.

There’s no magic formula for answering difficult questions on your website, but there are plenty of options available. Take Mint.com as an example:

mint.com-FAQs

Financial products are notoriously difficult to navigate online, which is why Mint has made its FAQs as clean and concise as possible. It’s easy for users to find relevant answers, either by searching the FAQ, or through Mint’s community forum resources. And if that customer’s answers still prove elusive, Mint provides easy access to get the information he needs directly from a representative.

mint.com-need more help?

Finding the right way to answer questions

The examples above are very different in execution, but what they have in common is that they make it easy for customers to extract the information they need.

Developing a strategy for answering questions that will most benefit your users will take some work, but there are signs to look out for.

For example, the Ultimate Guide approach taken by Virgin Holidays Cruises banks on the company having the most comprehensive resources available anywhere on the web — resources purposefully built to be relevant to anyone considering a cruise and not just people who already cruise with Virgin. Mint’s vertical is wildly different — financial advice is already available on incredibly high-quality publications that users might well trust more than a services provider. So Mint relies on the fact that the information currently out there is difficult to navigate — its strategy wins because it makes consumers’ lives easier.

Ultimately, we know content succeeds because it helps people — and your business will succeed when you make finding out what your customers need help with a central focus of your web content strategy.

 

Author: Stephen Kenwright

Stephen Kenwright is Senior Content Strategist at Branded3 – a digital marketing agency which is part of the St. Ives publishing group – who are among the UK’s leading authorities on the integration of search engine and content marketing. Previously B2B copywriter at FTSE 250 listed strategic outsourcing business MITIE, he has an MA in Renaissance Literature and a strong passion for digital media. Follow him on Twitter.