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.
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?”
I have a love-hate relationship with marketing. On one hand, because I spent two decades in direct marketing I know a great campaign is a delight to everyone in the target market who encounters it. On the other hand there’s also plenty of rubbish, mad behaviour and marketing weirdness out there.
Here’s an almost wholly negative look at today’s marketing world… apologies in advance – I’m usually an annoyingly positive person!
Google Glass marketing mega-fail
I’ve mentioned before how I signed up with Google, giving them my personal details so I’d get updates about Glass. Well, I never did hear a word out of them. And now Glass is in the shops.
The lack of marketing communication makes Google seem breathtakingly arrogant. Having said that, I will still be buying Glass, but with a sour taste in my mouth. When a brand you express a specific, direct, personal interest in doesn’t appear to give a flying f*** about you, pardon my French, it doesn’t feel good.
Blog comments frustration
Do I want to give a load of random apps free access to my social media accounts and let them do stuff on my behalf? No I do not. That’s why I rarely if ever make comments on blog posts, even when the information they contain is sheer brilliance.
It’s a marketing no-brainer. The more obstacles you put in the way of spontaneous engagement, the fewer people will bother. Isn’t it better to take the inevitable spam on the chin and do your housework than force readers to sign up for invasive apps like Disqus before letting them comment?
Innocent as charged? Your reputation is still muddied
When you’re prosecuted you’re either found guilty or not guilty. Whatever happened to ‘innocent’, the diametric opposite of guilty? Not guilty is a totally negative phrase, a mealy-mouthed non-acknowledgement of a person’s lack of culpability. If you didn’t do it, you’re innocent. It might be ‘just’ semantics but as a copywriter, I know it makes a big difference.
Why do TV advertisers infantilise the British public?
Why do such a high proportion of TV ads aimed at adults feature cartoons and animated characters? I am a grown up. Why on earth would I respond to confused.com’s mega-irritating, childish, jabbering nonsense, for example, or the all-singing, all-dancing ridiculousness created by the insurance broker Admiral? Or those mad adverts where people cook a meal only to find their home is suddenly invaded by hundreds of gyrating nutters? WTF?
Next time you’re watching telly, count how many ads in each break are clearly infantile. Why are so many brands so determined to infantilise their audience? Am I the only one who finds it sinister?
What does loyalty mean in a marketing context?
Customer loyalty is a strange concept. What does it mean to be ‘loyal’ to a product or brand? It’s obviously very different to the pure, clean, powerful, intuitive loyalty we feel for friends and family. It’s multi-faceted, consisting of all sorts of different emotional and practical elements including the quality of the product or service itself, how closely it meets your needs, how convenient it is, what it costs, customer service and support.
As such brand loyalty is easily damaged, whereby real loyalty to the people you love is much more resilient. You don’t leave your lover unless there’s a very good reason. But you’ll switch brands like lightning if you’re the least bit pissed off or inconvenienced. If our local Co-Op closed down there’s no way I’d travel miles to find the next-nearest Co-Op and carry on as normal. I’d shop at Tesco instead, because it’s closer to home.
In a world where punters turn against you at the slightest provocation, there’s no room for complacency.
Telly fun – Messing with advertisers’ heads
Advertisers love to mess with our heads. In our house we like to turn the tables. Here are two games to while away the tediously frequent three minutes of (mostly) nonsense we’re expected to put up with.
- Turn the sound off half way through an advert’s core proposition and create your own ending. The current TV ad for Kindle Paper White, for instance, kicks off with the sentence “We asked book lovers to…”, which you can finish off any way you like. My favourite, from last night, is, “take acid.”
- Turn the sound down and read the small print. It’s an eye-opener, especially unregulated sectors like the cosmetics industry which blatantly, gleefully lies about the effectiveness of its products because there’s nobody to make it tell the truth. Once you start reading the small print, a surprisingly large proportion of TV and off-the-page ads suddenly become far less convincing.
Banksy on advertising
Last but not least, I love what Banksy says about advertising. If you treat punters with less than the expected amount of respect, forethought, intelligence and consideration, this is exactly how they will feel about your ads.
Here’s an image, hooked from Twitter. I’d love to credit the source of the piece but since I don’t know where it originated, I can’t. If you know, leave a comment and I’ll do the decent thing.
There’s all sorts of fascinating stuff going on in the amazing world of marketing right now. Here are my favourite marketing stories.
Brazil beats the world on online freedom
Brazil has awarded its internet its very own Bill of Rights in a move widely lauded by internet activists including the web’s inventor, Tim Berners-Lee.
On 23rd April the Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, signed a document called Marco Clvilda da Internet. The agreement sets out guidelines for freedom of expression, data privacy and web neutrality, making the internet a better place place for Brazil’s 100 million users. Well done, Brazil. Come on, Britain.
Royal London goes mental on telly – They’re so yesterday
Royal London is a venerable, trustworthy, happy-to-be-traditional mutual financial institution, AKA a friendly society. It was founded way back in 1861 by two men with astonishingly large, rampant beards, Henry Ridge and Joseph Degge. It’s all very serious stuff. Which is the way it should be when you’re charged with looking after other people’s money.
But the TV ads they’re running at the moment tell the company’s story in a startlingly, wonderfully, uniquely silly way that, while it highlights their preference for doing things the good, old-fashioned way, brings the brand bang up to date.
In a world where it’s often depressingly easy to see client interference in ad scripts, transforming thrilling ideas into horribly dull and boring productions, it’s hugely refreshing. I salute VCCP, the creative agency who dreamed up the idea. And I salute the client even more fervently. Brave people.
Having worked in insurance direct marketing for many years, I know just how challenging it can be to push good ideas past compliance departments, technical folk and typical financial service fuddy-duddies. Thanks for the laughs, Royal London. You’re obviously a different animal from the norm. Next time I need a financial service, I shall come and find you.
If you haven’t seen them yet, here’s a link to Royal London’s new TV ads. They’re hilarious. Enjoy.
Keyterm research v keyword research – Are you a novice or a guru?
Apparently people who really know their SEO onions call it keyword research, while people who don’t know their search engine visibility ass from their elbow call it keyterm research.
Duh. It looks like the difference between my ass and elbow has been giving me grief for many years without my realising it. I use the idiots’ term. As a copywriter and content creator I find it more accurate and logical. After all, keywords can be single words, multiple-word terms or entire sentences, and can include numbers and symbols as well as letters.
Compare the Market says “stuff our products” and focuses on the fun bit
Those clever Meercats. They’ve outdone themselves this time around with their latest ad featuring the cutest baby meercat on the planet, a little chap called Oleg. The ad is clearly designed to promote their new baby meercat toy. But hang on a minute… Compare the Market is an insurance price comparison site. Not a toy store.
This is clever, clever stuff. While insurance is deadly dull, meercats are funny and cute. So why not pin your brand on the fun stuff and sideline its core purpose? The agency, VCCP again, and client have taken a huge risk and gone way off piste, but I reckon they’re probably pulling it off.
Unless anyone out there knows otherwise, I’d be willing to bet good money that people are flocking to the site to get hold of an Oleg toy. They can only get one by buying insurance, and that’s exactly what they’ll be doing.
Here’s a link to the latest meercat advert, just in case you haven’t seen it yet.
We’re all funny bunnies… and don’t forget it!
The very fact that we’re seduced into buying from a particular source because we can’t resist the fluffy toys they’ve created, even though they have bugger all to do with the products on sale, proves we’re funny bunnies.
It’s something marketers forget at their peril. If you’re ever tempted to see your customer and prospect base as rational, logical grown-ups who make sensible buying decisions based on common sense criteria, stop yourself and remember there’s nowt as queer as folk.