It’s startling how often, in one way or another, the news relates to digital marketing and communications. It’s also surprising how much of the scientific research I read explores the way humans communicate. On the other hand perhaps it isn’t all that unexpected, since communication is one of the human race’s most important survival skills.
Communications and digital marketing news
Here are my favourite marketing-related, communications-focused stories and revelations for March 2015.
Worrying 0.2 second snap judgements
Oof, scary. Recent research by Xiaoming Jiang and Marc Pell of McGill University in Montreal reveals people make snap judgements about what you say in just 0.2 seconds.
It looks like first impressions are established faster than anyone suspected… and the way you say things also has a profound effect on what others think about you. Apparently our brains prefer confident statements, lighting up like Christmas trees when we hear a confident voice. Conversely, when we hear a less confident-sounding voice our brains produce less activity. The conclusion? We assign confident speakers more attention and process what they say faster.
Can you mimic confidence? It’s a tough one. Confident voices are acoustically very similar to almost- confident voices, and also sound very much like neutral voices. Less confident voices tend to have a higher pitch, which sometimes rises a little at the end of a statement as though you’re questioning yourself, and they’re also slower on the whole than confident voices.
Thankfully the written word is different. You might have the least confident-sounding voice in the known universe but it’s always possible to fill a written message with assurance, verve and conviction.
How Facebook ‘Likes’ reveal your personality type
Can a simple Facebook ‘Like’ reveal your inner self? Yes, it can.
In 2013 a team of scientists revealed how Facebook Likes can predict private and highly personal information like your sexuality. Now it looks like a machine learning algorithm can predict human personality types, also using nothing more than Facebook Likes.
So far so interesting… but it’s sinister, too. The algorithm determines personality, as defined by five popular broad-stroke classifications, a lot more accurately than friends, family and even partners can.
On the bright side, the predictions represent a very broad way of classifying human personality types, and the resulting data is neither particularly intimate nor suitable for improving our understanding of an individual. On the dark side, they do it using just one piece of data. Imagine what data analysts can find out using multiple data points? Is anything sacred? Probably not, or at least not for long.
David Ogilvy nails copywriting
There’s always been a lot of rubbish talked about marketing. But David Ogilvy didn’t talk any of it. Here’s what he said about copywriting. It’s all very well me banging on about writing the way people speak. But when someone like Ogilvy hands out advice, it’s much harder to ignore.
“If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language, the language they use every day, the language in which they think.”
It works. Which is exactly why I write in the vernacular.
Google structured markup – WTF?
I love Google. Having tried numerous alternatives, the Big G really does seem to deliver the best search experience. But now and again they drive me nuts. Take structured markup, a brilliant way to ‘tell’ the search engine giant more about what your content means.
You can mark up all sorts of things including book reviews, addresses, events, products, local businesses and TV series episodes, which Google uses to display your search results “more attractively and in new ways”. Here’s an example of rich snippets in action, taken from Google’s Webmaster Answers, where they’ve highlighted a bunch of dated, properly marked-up events in the search results. Cool huh?
There’s even a Google Structured Data Markup Helper, a handy tool to create the right structured markup for your web pages. It’s altogether a fantastic idea. But the code the ‘Helper’ generates is endless and the instructions about which bits of it to copy and paste into your web page are utterly baffling.
Now I’m no slouch. While I’m not a coder I know my way around basic html. If I had to, I could cobble together a decent html page from scratch. But I’m lost in space with the structured markup tool.
How come it’s so challenging? I reckon it’s because the tool was created and the instructions written by a person who has a really good understanding of how the world of Google works. But in the real world, outside Googleplex, few of us have the knowledge and experience needed to deal with structured markup.
It strikes me that if the Big G wants website owners to include structured markup in web pages, they need to either make the code simpler or make their instructions a lot clearer. Until then it’s one for the tech-heads amongst us.
The marketing lesson is this: Never assume your target audience has the same basic knowledge as you. It’s more than likely they don’t. You need to communicate at lowest common denominator level if you want to make an impact.
More about Google’s algorithmic view of trustworthiness
It sounds like a good idea: forget relying on backlinks, which can be manipulated. Why not rank and rate a website based on the amount of ‘truth’ it contains, which can’t be manipulated?
Google’s new Knowledge Based Trust Score taps into their vast and growing Knowledge Vault to identify reasonable proxies for the truth. It means a website containing contradictory information will lose natural search visibility. Hm, perhaps it’s time to double check your facts?
Avoiding negativity bias – Copywriting with a positive slant
Marketing wisdom 101: Almost every message, no matter how negative on the face of it, can be turned into a positive.
Why is it a good idea to stay positive? Because of Negativity Bias, a well-studied psychological phenomenon where humans tend to focus harder on stimuli we don’t like. Why do we do it? Probably because nasty negative things come with a higher risk of being important or threatening. Its why I avoid asterisks and caveats, turning them into positive statements wherever possible.
The wonderful world of marketing is never dull. Here are a few random chunks of news, views and interesting marketing insights to pique your interest, tease your brain and maximise your marketing impact.
Marketing insight and news for March 2015
Dominos pizza lost in space with maths
Sometimes clarity is difficult to achieve, especially when you’re hell bent on covering your sorry ass. Which is presumably what happened when the marketing folk at Dominos Pizza were faced with writing copy to promote a special offer. Apparently punters can make “savings of up to and over £350″. How much?
Blogging bears ££££££ fruit
My most popular copywriting service? It’s blogging, something my clients find tough going themselves and are happy to hand over to me. I write to a strict brief for some people, for others my role involves tracking down unique, strange, weird and wonderful blog post ideas on their behalf.
I love writing blog posts, each one a compelling story in miniature. So it’s lovely to find out from one of my favourite clients that one post in particular is a real hard hitter, an evergreen piece of content that people are finding genuinely useful. But there’s more. It’s also a conversion engine.
Apparently this particular post, a detailed piece I constructed around a set of popular long tail keywords, pulls in a regular stream of readers month on month and a good proportion of them convert, generating anything from £2000 to £5000 per sale. The post cost my client £40, making the ROI pretty damned good.
Can I bring this copywriting magic to bear on every post? Obviously I do my best to create unforgettable content every time, but it’s notoriously hard to predict what’ll actually go ballistic, go viral or otherwise hit a nerve with a large number of people. If it was easy, everyone’d be doing it. On the other hand client feedback reveals I pull it off often enough to make a real financial difference. Which pleases me no end – I am officially ‘chuffed of Brighton’.
Uncovering precious blog nuggets
Marketing insight doesn’t come much better than this, and it’s all under one cover. Yet again I find a gold mine of brilliant news items in New Scientist magazine, my favourite source of the truth about life, the universe and everything. So what? So if I had a quid for every copywriting client who struggles to find subject matter to write about, I’d be rich.
The trick is to keep your eyes and ears open 100% of the time just in case something relevant – or something that can be angled to make it relevant – pops up. The oddest news items can be harnessed to deliver the right message, whether you sell VA services or gold jewellery, consultancy or software test, business coaching or high street fashion. Whatever your sector, it’s just a matter of using your imagination.
Take story 1, which reveals how “exercising hard or not eating for a while” alters your immune system’s behaviour so profoundly that it suppresses some forms of unwanted immune response, which in turn can protect you against nasties like Alzheimers, diabetes and various horrid autoimmune conditions. If you run a gym, a doctor’s surgery, a diet club, food shop, health farm (the list goes on…), it’s a brilliant news item to blog about, turning it to your advantage.
Then there’s story 2, a hair-raising warning to the USA. The nation apparently faces 40 year mega droughts in the face of human-led climate change, and they could start to ravage the country within just 50 years if we don’t get our act together. If I was a business selling any kind of renewable energy I’d get blogging. The same goes if I was into farming equipment or sold any of the paraphernalia that goes with agribusiness. In fact this story is so far-reaching and horrific, with a bit of imagination and creative thinking it can be applied to almost any business, anywhere.
If you don’t have the time or inclination to jot down blog post ideas as you discover them let alone transform them into unique, fascinating, wholly relevant posts, why not let me do it for you?
Doing your website homework
My WordPress website is coming up ten years old. I only uploaded the excellent Yoast SEO plugin some time in 2013 or ’14. Which means several hundred of my blog posts don’t have appropriate meta data and a whole load of images aren’t tagged properly. I have also acquired various broken links and haven’t ‘nofollowed’ links that should be nofollowed. Duh.
The word on the SEO street is this: fixing on-site issues is more important than ever. So I’m slowly, methodically fixing the jibblies bit by bit. I’m hoping it’ll support better natural search results. Two years ago I was all over page one Google like a rash for my top keywords. These days I’m more or less invisible. So it’s well worth a punt.
What about your website? If there’s any low hanging fruit, you’d do well to fix it.
Build your own 3d printer, week by week
If you’ve ever wanted to build your very own 3d printer you’re in luck. Even better, all you need to do is buy weekly editions of a special magazine, each of which comes with a 3d printer part, then stick ‘em together and tada… you’re in business. It just goes to show how fast new tech can develop when it hits the consumer sweet spot, revealing itself as a genuinely useful and desirable piece of kit. The magazine is called 3D Create and Print, and you can either buy it weekly at any good newsagent or subscribe on the 3d create and print website.
Charity copywriting Karma
I’ve been writing free copy for charities for many years. I’m fortunate to be a popular copywriter and pro bono copywriting is no skin off my nose. In fact, as the past nine years as a freelance writer have proved, the more free copy I write, the more paid work comes my way. And, I must admit, it’s a really good way to get my name bandied around in marketing circles as well as generate a generous, positive brand.
Would providing pro bono services generate more business for your company? While it’s hardly run-of-the-mill marketing advice, it’s worth a try.
The marketing power of ‘thank you’
Along the same lines as pro bono karma, have you factored the power of ‘thank you’ in to your marketing efforts? If not, it’s well worth thinking about. Do you thank your customers for their orders, your suppliers for their deliveries, your advocates for their support… and do you thank the people who raise complaints or make negative comments about your business?
We Brits live in a nation where a thank you is much more than a nice thing to have. Pleases and thank yous are the skeleton upon which our notoriously good-mannered culture hangs. We live in a country where good manners generate a whole load of extra goodwill, which helps you breed loyalty, harness the power of word of mouth recommendations and improve your brand’s equity.
Here are 7 common circumstances in which a simple thank you will help make your business memorable.
- When someone buys from you
- When they make an enquiry
- When they respond to a marketing campaign
- When someone returns a product to you for a refund or replacement
- When they make a complaint
- When they mention you on a social network
- When they fill in a webform
2014 retrospective – Content marketing grows up
If you hadn’t heard of content marketing by the beginning of 2014, you’ll know about it now. This year has seen a massive increase in the amount of brilliant content being uploaded to the web, driven by Google’s algorithmic insistence on a top notch user experience.
While the quality side of things is great for users, the quantity element means there’s more media noise out there than ever, and it’s increasingly difficult to get heard. If you haven’t joined the content marketing revolution yet, it’s time to up your game. If you’ve already upped your game what can you do? More of the same? It’s a tricky one.
Marketing integration – Joining the dots for 2015
Unless you integrate your efforts intelligently it’s less likely than ever that your marketing efforts will bear the required fruit. What does integration mean? It’s about achieving more than the sum of the parts.
If you use the same creative treatment for your email campaigns, off the page ads, postcard direct mail campaign, landing page and so on, the combined impact delivers a better response than if you created a different treatment for each. If you drive the same special offer through multiple media, you’ve also integrated things. Big brands do it all the time. If you’ve ever seen a TV ad, noticed a similar radio advert and spotted posters and POS materials promoting the same special offer, that’s what they’re doing.
Get it right and integrated work costs less, takes less time to develop, drives better results and pleases your audience more. All of which is great news for your bottom line.
Figuring out search intent… and fulfilling it
You could guess. Plenty of people do. But in 2015 it’ll benefit you to answer the questions people are most likely to ask about products and services like yours. And knowing the buyer intent hidden behind the search query, whether it’s an old-style keyword-driven search or a new-style semantic search, will help you decide how to prioritise new content which really does fulfil people’s needs.
Knowing the truth – Studying your results
Have you been marketing in a vacuum? If so, it’s time to do things the grown up way and attempt to attribute ROI directly to individual marketing activities. Otherwise, how will you know what works best and what to drop? The same goes for targeting, segmenting and AB testing, things direct marketers have been doing since the 1950s. It’s high time they went mainstream in digital marketing. Enough of the fluffy, airy-fairy stuff, already. In 2015 you’ll need to know the truth, even if it hurts.
Does great content always attract backlinks?
The theory goes like this: you write amazing, irresistible content. You promote it through social media. People read it, love it, share it and link back to it. It seems simple enough and it is… in principle. But in real life you have to do something genuinely exceptional to attract backlinks.
Getting people to engage at all is difficult enough – as you’ll know if you’ve been blogging for years without winning so much as a single blog comment. It isn’t unusual. So don’t be disappointed when your brilliance doesn’t bear fruit. The message for 2015 is to keep up the good work, persist, learn from your failures and harness any content marketing successes to deliver more of the same.
Will the ‘next big thing’ be semantic search?
The internet changes all the time. It’s an incredibly fluid landscape and the way we market our wares within it changes just as often, just as quickly and profoundly. While nobody knows what the next big thing will be, one thing is certain: there will be a next big thing!
What new doors will content marketing open in 2015? The semantic search door has already been busted wide open and Google is about to walk through it. Will next year be the year semantic search – the holy grail of the search experience – changes content marketing forever? If so it’ll open up a whole new world of contextual natural language queries, making understanding the intent behind people’s searches and answering them more important than ever.
What about the role of keywords in SEO?
I keep hearing people say there’s no need for keyword research any more. Really?! Search engines are using keywords in increasingly sophisticated ways to deliver search results perfection. Google’s Hummingbird algorithm update, which improved natural language search, has kept words in general and keywords in particular firmly on the menu. They’re not going away any time soon.
Will more of us pay to advertise online?
Some digital marketing experts feel that distributing content better – ie. in a better-targeted way – will be big in 2015, providing new routes through which to compete for people’s attention. If the pundits are right, distributing content via paid social media might be de rigeur by this time next year, putting brands with deeper pockets at a distinct marketing advantage.
By all accounts paid search is big on the agenda for next year, too. Which means bidding for popular keywords will probably go sky high. Subtlety will become a vital attribute via which you can still make pay-per-click work. If your main keywords are too expensive to bid on, you’ll need to think outside the box and ferret out some cheaper, longer tail terms – which display clearer buyer intent – to bid on instead.
Will content budgets increase?
The more competitive the arena, the better you have to perform to make an impact. As a rule better quality content costs more than sub-standard stuff, simply because it takes longer to generate. With a bit of luck I’ll see a slew of new clients whose amateur copywriting skills are no longer good enough to out-compete others in their sector.
Dumping SEO for upstream direct response advertising
Some mainstream digital marketing agencies are giving up on SEO and natural search more or less altogether, using things like tightly targeted upstream ‘off the page’ digital direct response advertising to drive visitors to their websites instead. Is SEO dead? Of course not, although it’s certainly becoming more difficult to win top search results positions via optimisation alone.
Will backlinks still have SEO value?
Backlinks are just as easy to manipulate as keywords once were. But search engines are – rightfully – reluctant to stop using them as indicators of a website’s popularity. When they’re honestly given for a job beautifully done, they work a treat. But you can still buy thousands of crummy, low value backlinks for next to nothing. And you can easily buy good quality links if you pay a bit more money. As long as you stay under the Google radar, it’s still perfectly possible to win great search positions through paid links.
Whatever happens in 2015 it’ll be interesting to see how the Big G’s algorithm copes with continuing backlink piss-takes.
Going old school to catch up with offline marketers
Digital marketing still hasn’t caught up with direct marketing. If every digital marketer learned the fine art of DM, the digital marketing world would be a much better place. Come on people. The information and knowledge is out there, yours for the taking, and it’ll change your marketing life for the better. Guaranteed.
What about your own digital marketing predictions?
If you think I’ve missed a trick, leave a comment and let me know…
In the meantime if your company needs professional proofreading support, blogging, a press release or fresh marketing-led content, I’m here.
The magical world of online marketing is never, ever dull. Here’s another post covering current digital marketing, copywriting and related stories.
Twitter tests direct sales in the USA
On 8th September Twitter launched a revolutionary test: a new way for users to find and buy stuff direct from tweets. Initially the test will involve a ‘small percentage’ of US users, with ‘some’ tweets from Twitter’s partners in the test including a buy button.
Facebook gets it wrong
Having slammed Facebook for their habit of using my activity to target ads in a particularly unsubtle and annoying way, I’m perfectly happy with tweets containing buy buttons, simply because it doesn’t – so far – seem to involve using my habits and preferences to target products and offers at me. In this case I am in charge of who I follow, thus what I see and don’t see.
Exclusive offers for people who follow partner organisations
The test is being billed as an “early step in our building functionality into Twitter to make shopping from mobile devices convenient and easy, hopefully even fun.” Cool. And apparently users will be able to access offers and products not available anywhere else, giving sellers a way to transform cordial relationships into actual sales.
So far Twitter has partnered with Fancy, Gumroad, Musictoday and Stripe for the test, and more partners will be coming on board soon. The initiative will test making a purchase in just a few clicks, and it seems pretty damn simple: click the buy button in the tweet, review extra information about the product, enter your address and payment details and once everything’s confirmed, your order is sent to the merchant.
For followers only… fingers crossed
I presume users will have to actually follow partner companies to see tweets containing the buy button. In which case it’s fine with me. I’m happy to follow brands whose products I might like to buy, but I’d be most dis-chuffed if they somehow turned up in my timeline without my permission.
It’s a fine line. Facebook crossed it long ago, and I dearly hope Twitter, a social medium I love, doesn’t follow suit.
What your email marketing system CAN’T do for you
Read the bumph and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the best email marketing software does absolutely everything for you. And you’d be right… almost.
All singing, all dancing email marketing systems? Well, almost
If you’re lucky your email marketing software will be able to identify anonymous visitors. It will be able to build drip-feed campaigns to nurture prospects along the sale funnel and create beautiful-looking emails as well as gorgeous-looking landing pages. It’ll help you build flexible forms that change according to the person who’s filling them in. And, of course, spew out any number of magical stats to help you analyse how well or otherwise your efforts are performing.
But there’s an elephant in the room. Actually, it’s more like a woolly mammoth.
Woolly mammoth alert…
Your email marketing system may indeed shit wonders and fart miracles. But unless the words you use in your subject lines and emails, on your landing pages and everywhere else are written with direct response in mind – eloquent, exciting, persuasive and clear – you’ll be whistling in the wind.
A lot of people think email marketing doesn’t work. But it works perfectly well. It’s remarkably powerful stuff provided you get the words right. Without them, all that cool tech, automation, information and eye candy means absolutely nothing. So get a direct marketing savvy copywriter on the case.
Always provide an opt-out. And make sure the blasted thing actually works
I don’t like to name and shame sinners. So I won’t. But it’s incredibly annoying when you get stuck in an unsubscribe loop.
In one email I got recently, clicking on the ‘unsubscribe’ link achieved nothing at all because the link was bust. In another case doing so didn’t stop the relentless flow of emails – I unsubscribed and received an acknowledgement, but still they came. In the third case, the unsubscribe link took me to a page that didn’t mention unsubscribing at all. Weird. And in the fourth case there was no way to unsubscribe.
Even if your prospect has actively opted in, it’s common courtesy to provide an opt out. Every prospect deserves an opt-out option, and you should include one in every communication, of every type. It also helps if it actually works!
Here’s a handful of quick-fire marketing inspired tips to help you get your on-site marketing house in order, from asking the most basic SEO question to the right and wrong way to go about content creation.
5 simple marketing and content tips
1. Do you really want to be on page one of Google?
Do you need to be on page one of Google’s SERPs? Getting onto page 1 is such a challenge these days it’s worth thinking through carefully. In my case the answer is no. If you’re freelance or run a very small service-focused business it might prove a bit much for you, too.
When I started freelance copywriting I made damn sure my site was on page 1 for all sorts of keyterms. It was great at the time, giving me the push I needed to drum up a good-sized customer base. Nowadays it’d be disastrous. I don’t want to turn people down, nor do I want to be swamped. My current off-page one positions are just right, delivering enough new customers to fill any gaps left by my regulars and word-of-mouth referrals.
2. Write content like New Scientist
How do you speak to potential punters? People are people, whether you’re talking B2B or B2C. As a business, the best way to talk to your fellow humans is to write like New Scientist. They’re adept at explaining horribly complex concepts in simple terms, which is exactly what’s needed almost all the time.
With their help a total physics and maths numpty like me can grasp the concept of quantum physics and even take a dim stab at some of the intricacies. Do the same with your business and you’ll strike the right human chord: succinct, professional, intelligent, entertaining and clear.
3. How much information do you put on web pages?
It’s tempting to include everything you have ever known and ever will know about your subject. But it’s a bad idea from a marketing perspective.
Say you’re a business support organisation. You provide six core services, all of which you talk about on the ‘our services’ page. Do you need to go into the fine detail of each service too? If you do, you risk over-egging your sales message, which should shine out loud and clear without being interrupted, obscured or buried.
You need to give people enough information in the main pages to make a buying or contact decision, no more and no less. When you do, the majority of people will have what they need to make an informed decision.
Those who prefer to dig deeper before taking the plunge should be pointed towards the fine detail, deeper in the site, and it’s your job to provide really clear navigation.
4. Communication skills no-no… whatever you do, don’t do this!
National Parks are brilliant. We walk the South Downs a lot, sometimes more than thirty miles in a day. I love it. But the organisation’s communication skills could do with a boost. I scratched my head for ages over these paragraphs and I’m still not sure what they mean.
“Thank you for your communication regarding the application at Nine Acre Copse (planning reference SDNP/13/05896/CM). The Authority will accept further representations on the case up to the date of committee (11 September 2014). Please be advised that online submission of comments is the only medium that will receive acknowledgement.
If you have received an email referring to the scheduling of committee, you will already have made representations on the case. If you wish to add additional comments, you may register (if not done so already) and comment online by clicking the following link.”
It’s a fine example of how not to communicate. Even worse, although they have my full name they’ve called me ‘Dear Madam’. Urgh. And the email title is RE: Application SDNP/13/05896/CM – Nine Acre Copse. Double urgh.
5. Great communication skills in action – do it like this!
In complete contrast, here’s an excerpt from an email by a US crime writer I’m very fond of. That’s more like it. If you’re going to write to a customer or prospect, do it more like this:
I’m not Martha and the Vandellas (♪ Dancin’ in the Streets ♫), but I have an invitation for you to do some “virtual” Dancing in the Streets in exchange for some freebies… if you’re interested.
Maybe you’ve heard that it takes a village to sell a book today. It’s true, and many authors, myself included, have begun to use Street Teams (they originated in the music industry) to help spread the word about their books.
I’m looking for a few, select, enthusiastic fans to do some minor tasks online, in-person, or both to help get the word out about my books, audios, and short stories. Examples include: writing an honest review, doing the occasional social media share or post, and maybe even asking a library or bookstore to carry one of my books.
In exchange for these undertakings — things that you might do anyway, I hope — the Street Team will have daily access to me and other members of the team. You’ll also get some fun goodies from time to time.
You’ll be the first to learn about my upcoming books and events, get an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of my latest novel, and generally be “in the know” about my goings on.
Ready to learn more?”