How To Optimize Your Content For Search Questions

[feat-text]Summary: Optimizing for search can be a tricky prospect. You have to anticipate what people search for and how they will phrase it, and then have a strategy to claim the top spots on Google.[/feat-text]

How do people search the web? This turns out to be a much deeper question than we’d ever anticipated, given that the very concept of “searching the web” has only existed for about 30 years or so. It turns out that studying web search unlocks all kinds of questions relating to technology, psychology, semantics, and even a bit of cognitive theory.

So the goal of every search is to learn something, whether it’s “how do I create a Google Ad campaign?” or “where can I buy a snowblower?” or “was the actor who played the dwarf in the dream sequence in Twin Peaks also the guy who played Samson on HBO’s Carnivale?” Now our goal in SEO and content marketing is to field the questions relevant to our target customers’ needs—and our business goals—and provide the answers that Google anticipates will be the most useful.

Not All Search Results Are Alike

In recent years, Google has taken to splitting organic search results into different sections to try to make the results more useful to users. These have expanded over time due to popularity until there’s now a menagerie of different search engine results page (SERP) features.

What are the different kinds of Google search results? They are collectively referred to as “featured snippets” and they include…

  • Featured paragraph: A mini-article excerpted from the source link
  • Direct answers: Short, factual responses that answer queries like a math problem or statistic
  • Map pack: Features a map and typically appears for any location-based queries that include “near me”
  • Lists: Often appear for “top ten” or list steps for “how-to” information
  • Tables: For spreadsheet-oriented information such as quarterly company earnings
  • Video: In case there’s a YouTube hit that directly matches the query
  • Carousel: For categorical queries, often directed towards making a purchase
  • “People also ask” (FAQ): Questions and answers related to that query
  • Ads: PPC ads are also given a special placement at the top of the SERP

There’s more snippet variety than we can reasonably list, with more being added. And that’s not counting the special responses for queries like “do a barrel roll” or “Google doodle Pac-Man.” Featured snippets and other structured queries now account for about 12% of all searches.

Sometimes there can even be multiple forms of a featured snippet on one SERP. There is one important thing to be aware of with featured snippets: they are designed to answer the user’s query efficiently, sometimes too efficiently, to the point of the user getting what they needed right there in the SERP and not needing to click through to your website!

 

Zero-Click Searches: Controversial?

Web marketers and online businesses do express some anxiety that featured snippet SERPs are robbing them of website traffic. This can even lead to a significant revenue leak. Some studies have shown that as much as 50% of search traffic stops right there at the SERP. Is this cause for concern?

There may be a response to that concern sooner than we think. The US Justice Department is currently pursuing an antitrust action against Google. The charges include “…creating a continuous and self-reinforcing cycle of monopolization…” While not directed at SERP snippets specifically, we wouldn’t be surprised if this comes up in a hearing at some point.

Be that as it may, it is still worthwhile to strive for the front page on any SERP, which is almost guaranteed when you format your information to be snippet-friendly (which we’ll show you how to do in a minute). A featured snippet on Google still sends traffic to your website, even if it’s not as much as a number one organic spot previously did.

Even if searchers don’t click, coming up in a featured snippet still gets you valuable brand exposure and recognition. Searchers are exposed to your brand and learn that you have information on the topic and that Google values enough to put at the top, making it more likely that they’ll remember you. When they’re ready to purchase, they’ll be more likely to come back to your brand, even if they didn’t click through the first time. The decision to buy isn’t always done in one step. All said and done, coming up on top of a SERP with a featured snippet is still better than not making the front page at all.

 

Find The Questions Your Customers Are Asking

To rank at the top with featured snippet inquiries, we’ve established that you have to anticipate searches and phrase your content in such a way that it’s obvious for Google’s crawlers to ascertain that you have the answer. Google has been applying natural language processing to indexed pages and search queries, so it has improved at matching queries to answers. Most of the time, all you have to worry about is using natural language to address a common inquiry, and Google does the rest.

How do you find out what queries your target audience and customers have? There are plenty of tools you can use to play “query detective” to learn the keywords, questions, and phrases used in your industry or related to your business.

  • Search forum and discussion websites like Quora, Reddit, and Stack Exchange, noting the way people phrase queries.
  • Gain insight into your customer’s concerns with data gathered from customer feedback forms, comments left on your site, ratings and reviews of your business, etc.
  • Poll your sales team and other employees who work directly with the public, to find out the questions they frequently answer.
  • Review Google Analytics to see what searches lead users to your site
  • Use SEMRush and other SEO tools to help you find new search phrases associated with a keyword.
  • Find the questions your customers are asking using AHRefs’ free keyword generator.
  • Get ideas from Google’s own “People Also Ask” feature.
  • Uncover related queries and search volumes using Google Ads Keyword Planner.

Let’s stop here for a quick example. Let’s say your college is trying to attract more applicants for your MBA program. Using the above avenues, you can discover some associated keywords and specific queries people have about an MBA degree:

  • How many years does an MBA degree take?
  • What is an MBA good for?
  • What salary does an MBA graduate typically get?
  • What universities offer an MBA program?
  • What are the fees to get MBA?

There is something important to note about search queries: They don’t always use perfect grammar. You should focus on the core keyword elements of those queries. We can take the above queries and distill them to things like “MBA cost,” “MBA fees,” “MBA salary,” etc. But in the copy text, we can expand that to anticipate as many forms of the key phrase as possible in our content.

You can also apply a bit of psychology and find new opportunities. With college degree queries, we frequently see questions pop up in the form of “Is 45 too old to get a … degree?” Then similar queries for age 50, 40, and so on. What is this telling us? There are people in their middle ages (young Gen Xers and older Millennials) who are looking at our current economy (stormy due to the COVID-19 effect) and are considering beefing up their qualifications for the rest of their careers. Nobody is addressing these queries, so this can be an opportunity to write several pieces around the theme of “you’re never too old” and include some testimonials and success stories from middle-aged alumni.

Keep Your Finger on the Pulse of the Internet

Now that we have an idea of how to find queries related to a given topic, what about brand new topics? This is just where being an avid social media user can come in handy! Paying attention to your streams daily helps you spot popular trends, albeit you have to sort through a lot of useless line noise. Still, you check Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at least once a day anyway, don’t you? While you’re there, check out trending hashtags, trending YouTube videos, and the like.

Find out what’s trending in your industry by following blogs and social media feeds of the movers and shakers in your field of business. Sometimes it’s worth keeping tabs on your competitors’ websites and blogs as well.

Along with this, you can monitor trends websites like:

You can always indulge a creative impulse and find an opportunity to work a trendy topic into your content even if it doesn’t necessarily fit into your industry. This kind of content can help your audience’s attention and show that your business stays up to date on trends. Don’t make it the mainstay of your blog, but you could, for instance, hop on the cryptocurrency trend by highlighting a story about how three graduates of your computer science program did something innovative with blockchain technology. Remember, the unusual angle is the one with less competition and more opportunity to rank highly or capture featured snippets.

Assessing Competitive Questions

Take a close look at the kinds of questions and responses that Google already highlights for queries in your field. Take note that featured snippet questions tend to be short and concise. Ask yourself:

  • How can I answer this question?
  • If the question is already “taken,” how can I provide a better answer?
  • What is the next question a user would ask, which nobody has answered yet?
  • What is the user actually looking for?
  • Do you have more authority to answer this question than the current answer? (For Reddit / Quora results, the answer is always ‘yes’)
  • Do I have an existing page that can already answer this question if I reword it? (This happens surprisingly often)
  • Can I answer the same question using a different featured snippet format? (is there a video result yet?)
  • How much competition is there for this query?

Remember that for certain categories of queries about medical, legal, financial, and other fields deemed “your money or your life,” Google applies “EAT” for “expertise, authority, and trust.” If there is an answer niche claimed by a less authoritative source, you can pounce on it and provide a source with more authority behind it. Google does rebuild the search index and improve its algorithms periodically, so a claimed featured snippet spot is not permanent.

Not every common question is worth chasing. Some have so much competition that you’re unlikely to claw to the top of that heap with a humble WordPress post. Instead, look for the edge cases, the areas with less activity. If you can get 80% of the hits from a query with a 100K volume, that’s a sure win compared to getting 10% of the hits from a query with a 600K volume.

Sometimes it’s worth tackling a really tough, controversial question that’s a point of debate in your industry, even if you can’t provide the definitive answer but can provide an “all-sides” answer. Sometimes it’s worth having a glossary or wiki section just to answer all those definition queries. Remember also, people ask “stupid” questions, too. Sometimes the best questions to chase are the blindly obvious ones!

 

How to Claim That Snippet

Once you determine the questions you’ll target, develop the content that answers those queries, the rest is up to formatting:

  • Use a Q&A format: header tag question, short paragraph answer
  • Reflect the question in the page title (“Things people ask about MBAs”)
  • Try to use different phrasings of the same query in your text to pick up on every search permutation
  • Use the appropriate schema formatting
  • Use on-page SEO best practices

There are schemas for FAQ pages, but also item lists, HowTos, events, recipes, you name it!

Most importantly of all, put the user first! Make sure your information is as complete as possible, as easy to understand as you can make it, and takes the user’s best interest at heart. The world is thirsty for knowledge. If you can help satisfy it, you can improve the world’s knowledge quotient and clean up in business while you’re at it.

 

How to Get Started with Content Marketing

It’s 2020 and people are still talking about blogs. Some small business owners out there might wonder, “Isn’t there any way I can market my company in the 21st century without being Mark Twain?” It seems unfair to think that there could be perfectly good businesses out there who fold because they couldn’t get a blog game together.

It is possible to market your business without resorting to blogging (pretend we’ve also lumped in multimedia content with blogging). You can buy ads on other websites, invest in in-person events, post to social media, partner with influencers or other brands, or advertise on any media platform you want to.

The thing is, blogging is the cheapest, most reliable way to reach an audience of potential customers. This is because the Internet is the single most wide-reaching and instantly accessible medium in history. It is possible to get an online content marketing campaign together without breaking the bank. The easiest way is to tap into in-house resources and task your team with writing blog posts. If you don’t have internal resources, you can hire writers to help you create blog content. It will also cost some time, of course, but it would also take some time to produce a 30-second TV commercial, and then you have to fork over $5 million to get it on during the Superbowl.

Let’s look at content marketing in a broader sense…

 

The Wide World of Content Marketing in Media

Content marketing was around long before the Internet.

Starting from the 1930s, radio dramas and later early TV shows had not just sponsors but a single-source sponsor. For example, the TV show about a talking horse, Mr. Ed (1961-1966), was sponsored by the Studebaker and Ford motor companies, consecutively, with product placement for their respective vehicles within the show.

This practice continued well into the 1960s, with “soap operas” being a prominent example. Procter & Gamble sponsored Guiding Light, The Edge of Night, and As the World Turns, notably. Then the television market switched over to multiple sponsors per show, through networks, and eventually, we ended up with video ads playing throughout your binge-watching session of Black Mirror on Netflix.

Outside of television, content marketing has been everywhere, but we never thought to label it that. The Guinness Book of World Records (published by the beer company) and the earliest Jell-O cookbooks (distributed for free by Jell-O) are both great examples of content marketing without the Internet. For one more example, have you ever looked at the back of a cereal box?

See, every other one has a maze or a game or a mask to cut out. This isn’t just bald copy marketing because you’re providing something with entertainment value as a stand-alone feature.

So, for those of you who might grumble about having to run a blog to market your business: count your blessings! You could be stuck drawing mazes all day. Or dealing with a talking horse. Can you imagine working at a Studebaker lot in the 1960s and having to smile through all the customers neighing at you all day?

Some of these examples are perfect analogies for content marketing on the Internet. In fact, here is the modern-day Jello recipe blog—nothing has changed since the early 1900s, except the medium. Recipe blogs for food and beverage products are an example of a cornerstone content marketing method. These blogs give their customers new and creative ways to enjoy their product, which ensures they continue buying it. It’s the “added value” strategy.

Here are more ideas in the added value vein:

There are a few inspirational examples to show you how to position your topics. The main difference between these examples and a small business is that you don’t have the advantage of an internationally recognized brand that’s been running for decades. Your blog will have a dual purpose: to help customers find you.

For a broader overview of content marketing, we have a primer right here. We’ll focus on digital content marketing in the textual medium.

Before we dive in, we will reassure you that if you doubt your blogging skills or your company staff doesn’t have similar resources, most firms outsource content marketing duties. Just as Studebaker executives did not have to personally train the horse, you can hire your own keyboard warrior at places like UpWork, Fiverr, ProBlogger, or by networking through LinkedIn.

 

The Content Marketing Process

So, we have the Internet. People use it to find things. They mostly do this by typing keywords into Google. Since Google is text-driven (or voice-driven if you’re talking about personal assistants like Alexa), you need to have text on your website for those potential customers to stumble upon your business.

Our battle plan so far:

  • Determine our potential customer base
  • Develop buyer personas
  • Identify what potential customers will search for and how
  • Create content that attracts those searches
  • Post it in a search-attractive format
  • Use the traffic to funnel visitors into conversions

Those “conversions” can vary depending on your business model: signing people up for your service, subscribing to your blog, purchasing widgets, generating revenue from ad impressions and affiliate links, promoting your brand, etc.

Develop Buyer Personas

The first step in developing an effective digital content marketing strategy is creating buyer personas. This is a profile of the ideal buyers that you want to reach. Your buyer persona should include details such as:

  • age range
  • geographic location
  • education
  • income level
  • media influences
  • triggers or motivating purchase behaviors
  • potential barriers to purchase
  • goals and success factors
  • decision-making unit

You can see buyer personas at work all around us. There’s a marked difference between the TV commercials that play during the daytime office-hour block and the evening prime time block. Products and services targeted towards seniors tend to play on the former, while those targeted at a younger or family audience play on the latter.

Creating useful buyer personas take some research while being careful to avoid biases and stereotypes. Your product might appeal to housewives, but be careful not to exclude the non-traditional households that could still be part of your base. Your product might have more appeal to progressives, but don’t assume that you won’t have the occasional moderate client. You might be selling to the coveted 14-22 age demographic, but don’t forget the young-at-heart too.

The best way to develop buyer personas is to talk to your existing customers. They already decided to purchase from you, so ask them how they made their decision. What factors did they consider? What was the trigger that prompted them to seek a solution? How did they decide between your product or service and your competitor? Where did the start their search for a solution? Was it the Internet or did they ask a friend for a recommendation? Engage them in an open, non-scripted conversation and you’ll be sure to extract nuggets of insight.

Once you get feedback from several customers, you’ll be able to analyze their responses, compile insights, and identify trends. Use these insights, combined with demographic information from past purchases, to develop rich buyer personas. When you can visualize your ideal buyer and target audience, it becomes much easier to develop blog content for them.

Identify How Your Ideal Customers Search

This is the trickiest question to answer, and one where you can use all the high-tech tools you can get. We have a full guide to researching competitive keywords, and one on using keyword analysis tools. Briefly, your choices for keyword analysis tools include:

That is plenty to get started! By the way, for tools that let you enter a URL, you can also enter a competitor’s website as well as your own. SEMRush and some other suites let you enter several domains and analyze and compare all of them. Your buyer personas can also help you identify keywords. Pay attention to what words customers use when they talk about your product or how they describe the problem they were facing. Make a collection of specific phrases and words they use. You can then develop content that answers their questions using their own words; it’ll even help your SEO strategy.

Keyword hunting is as much art as it is science. Set aside a convenient time for this. It’s even a little fun because you get a glimpse into the public’s mind and learn more about how they perceive topics and issues. You will learn something new every time you dive into the keyword rabbit hole.

Create Content People Want to Read

We have a whole list of ideas for creating attractive content. It doesn’t always require you to be Shakespeare; the web audience is actually more concerned with being helped than with pretty prose. Some typical blog post formats that work best are:

  • Educational and informative articles: (Researchers find cookies are linked to happier childhoods)
  • Tutorials and HOWTOs, instructional content: (How to bake great cookies)
  • Reviews and opinions: (Our favorite oven mitts for cookie bakers)
  • The top-X list, AKA “listicle”: (The top five cookie recipes you must try)
  • The case study or success story: (How the chocolate chip became America’s favorite cookie)
  • Snackable trivial lists: (These five facts about oatmeal raisin cookies will blow your mind)
  • The “Mythbusters” post: (Common misconceptions about cookies)
  • The jargon definition or glossary: (A glossary of cookie baking terms)

Generally, most blog posts will remind you of magazine or newspaper articles. Note our title examples; you see hundreds of blog posts on the Internet using titles in similar wording. If your market is a bit edgier, your industry fringe, or you’re looking to be more entertaining, you can be a bit more opaque in the title. By and large, clear headlines that promise content of a certain type are what most people look for. No one wants to read a confusing headline and wonder what the article is about. Make it easy for readers to know what you’re writing about. It can help drive traffic to your site and help with your conversion rate.

You will need to remember to write around not just keywords, but related and stemmed keywords from your main topic. Google Webmaster Guidelines lays out very clearly that you should not allow keyword usage to warp your content so that it sounds unnatural. Talk about your topic exactly as you would teach a lecture or write up an essay for school; Google’s algorithms will recognize natural quality writing and send the traffic to you.

In this article, we’ve mostly focused on blogging, but content can come in many forms. Peruse the Internet and you’ll find eBooks, digital courses, downloadable checklists, webinars, infographics, white papers, and more. The blog post examples I shared above can easily take other forms. For example, the “Glossary of Cookie Baking Terms” could be a downloadable PDF that you include with every cookie-cutter purchase. Or you can compile blog posts together into the “Ultimate Cookie Baker Guide” and offer it as a free download on your website.

Adhere to Technical SEO Best Practices

There are two sides to the SEO coin. Great, solid copy wins only half the day. The other half is posting it on a website that is accessible and friendly to both human users and Google search crawlers alike.

We go into a lot of this territory in our guide to SEO factors that boost ranking. Here’s a short checklist for your website that covers the basics:

  • Use a standard content management system (WordPress is usually the answer)
  • Be sure your website loads fast
  • Make sure your website is mobile-friendly
  • Have clear navigation so users (and crawlers) can access every last page
  • Format your content into organized sections, using H1, H2, H3, etc. headlines
  • Add images and include alt text
  • Add internal links to relevant service and product pages
  • Keep building more content

The larger your site and the more content you have, the generally higher Google ranks your authority and usefulness. As for all those site metrics, most of that is the job of your web developer. A standard hosted website with a WordPress install will check all the boxes.

Turn Those Clicks into Sales

While it’s great to have a rapt audience, you need more than loyal fans. Content marketing can be an effective way to grow your business when you remember to align your content with your business goals. What products are you trying to promote? Are you trying to boost enrollment in a new program? Are you launching a new service? Whatever your goal is, make sure that you’re creating content that supports it.

You can turn blog readers into leads by ensuring that there are clearly defined paths to purchase that they can follow. Call-to-actions (CTAs) can take many forms, but their essential purpose is to direct readers to take a specific action. This might be to subscribe to an email marketing list, buy a product, or to leave a review.

Here are some ideas:

  • Embed a product image and overview into a related blog article
  • Link to internal service or product pages
  • Include a “Related Posts” section at the bottom of each blog article so readers can explore and satisfy all their queries
  • Add pop-up CTAs for relevant eBooks or white papers

Interested readers should be able to easily learn more about your company, products, and services. Don’t make them hunt for information. If you do, they’ll quickly abandon your website. Your contact and request for quote form should be easily accessible and closely monitored.

By now, the rest of this process is going to vary depending on your business model. The beauty of digital content marketing is that it is so inexpensive to implement, that it will support the humblest business goal. It is entirely possible to have this system set up to support a drop-shipping business, a manufacturing company, a mom-and-pop storefront, an Etsy store selling folk crafts, a restaurant, or just about anything.

 

The Fine Art of Blogging

Finally, we’re going a little out of our way this time. Normally we focus on the technical stuff here and leave the creative inspiration to the artsy people. But our line of work taps into all kinds of creative, talented people. This time, we polled around the table to ask, “What works in blogging?” How do you stand out as not just a serviceable blog, but a GREAT blog?

Here you go, some of our general tips in closing:

“Conversational” Beats “Business Formal”

Yes, sure, we’re all professional and we want to put forth an image to the public that we’re ivory tower executives with global influence. But on the blog, let’s relax a bit! Take your shoes off, so to speak. Allow for some personality to peek through. Ham it up a little. Entertain guests like they were dropping by your cubicle for friendly office chat.

Respond to Your Audience

Some of the best ideas you will find for content is in your feedback. So, when you see a new rumor going around your industry, bring it up. When a search comes in that was obviously from somebody struggling with a problem, post a solution for the next lost soul. Ask your customer service team if they’re receiving any interesting suggestions. When you encounter an interesting aspect of your industry that pings your customers’ passion, share that passion with an amplified signal.

Go for That Long Tail

Long-tail content means writing for a small niche. Small niches, by definition, won’t attract huge waves of traffic right away, but they will fasten a hard lock on a niche without much competition. Indulge that niche crowd looking for one specific thing. All niches grow bigger on the Internet, which is why it’s a haven for geeks exploring their fringe hobbies.

Let Somebody Else Have the Spotlight Sometimes

Interview a staff member, honor a distinguished colleague, give credit to a source of inspiration for your business, or talk about your heroes. Your blog sounds better when it isn’t about you and your business all the time.

Sincerity and Authenticity are in Style

The youngest demographic, Gen Z, treasures authenticity most of all. This is because they’re the most media-saturated of every generation, and they tend to see through all the usual P.R. tricks. It’s OK to be a business; they understand you’re in it for the money. But when you express a value, act on it. When you need to say something important, add a human voice to it. The modern Internet audience would rather you just be yourself, instead of pretending to be something you aren’t.

Tap into Social Media

That’s where your audience is talking. If you’re already an Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter junkie, keep at it, because knowing what’s on the market’s mind and what its turn-ons and turn-offs are, gives you a competitive edge. Most importantly, chase down questions within your industry on sites like Reddit or Quora. Use those concerns and queries as writing prompts and address them on your blog.

Have Fun and Your Audience Will Too

Notice back over this article, about a dry topic like content marketing, we managed to work in references to talking horses, Jello recipes, and cookies? Fun things to think about, as well as handy examples to illustrate our points. Go for the fun stuff wherever you can. Your audience likes the same things you do.

Be the Guru

No matter who you are, the chances are good that you have specific, insightful knowledge about a topic that no one else knows. Share your expertise whenever you can. The Internet audience has a never-ending hunger to learn, even when they don’t happen to be spending money this second. Share your insight, wisdom, and hard-won experience. Your audience will love you for it.

 

5 Examples of Effective Legal Blogs

It’s surprising how many good legal blogs there are out there. Lawyers are one of the few professions where good writing seems to occur naturally.

Now, if you tell your legal staff that, they’re likely to look around going “What, me, a writer?” But it’s true; the level of literary skills necessary to practice law puts you ahead of many professions out there. Lawyers spend a lot of their time thinking about the correct, precise way to say things, which is the foundation of legal English semantics. It also happens to make for educational, informative content.

At the same time, legal blogs that aren’t necessarily done for content marketing are still good blogging just for the fun of it. When a lawyer blows off steam, stand back! It’s illuminating to see a side of someone they don’t show in client meetings or in front of a bench.

We’re going to explore some of the best legal blogs we’ve discovered, on both a professional and a recreational basis. Use these as jumping-off points for your own law firm digital marketing strategy. We’re going to explore many different approaches one can take because the law field is huge with ample niches that make interesting blog topics.

But first…

 

Why Won’t Digital Marketers Shut Up About Blogs?

We admit it, we get tired of hearing ourselves saying it. “Content is king,” blog blog blog.

But here’s a chain of arguments that form the incontrovertible conclusion that blogging must be part of your digital marketing strategy:

  • You need to reach people where they spend the most time: the Internet
  • Google is the main search engine of the Internet
  • Google operates by having users type in text and then matches that text to web pages
  • The only way Google can do that is by finding web pages with lots of words on them

And not just any words, but relevant words. Here is Google’s own Matt Cutts, probably one of the most brilliant computer engineers of our time, giving you a very concise example of the importance of a blog.

Let’s go over that again: Site A was getting no traffic and used its website as a virtual brochure. Their text was mostly nothing but a sales pitch. Site B was in the same industry but got a top ranking. They had a lot of content on the site that was informative about what they do, how to do it, and why things are how they are in their niche.

Users aren’t going to type generic marketing boilerplate terms into the search engine. They want to know the answers to their queries. This works the same way for every industry. Type in “how do I bake bread?” Bam, recipe blogs! Amazing system, isn’t it? As the internet has evolved, and the adoption of voice assistant technologies has increased, search queries have become more natural.

Of course, the most useful and informative resources on the web for a given industry get cross-linked and re-shared and cited whenever anybody asks a question on Quora or Reddit. They get bookmarked and shared on social media. Google uses this activity to rank how useful a site is to users, so it knows to bring that link up to other users with the same query in the future. And thus is born the concept of a “thought leader,” a recognized expert on a topic.

If you didn’t realize, what I just described is how blogging supports search engine optimization (SEO). To ensure that you rank at the top of the search engine result page (SERP), you need to create content, like blogs, to get there. When you create relevant, in-depth, and high-quality content that actually answers people’s questions, you’ll be able to secure the top spots on the SERP. The quality of your content, links from other websites, the actual time spent on site, are all queues that tell Google that your webpage is worth reading.

So, now we’re going to explore some legal thought leaders on the web. Let them be inspirations to you and your business marketing plan, but also appreciate the rich diversity of the legal niche and the many ways it can be made interesting.

We swear, Google didn’t intend to launch a secret global conspiracy to turn every business owner into a journalist. It just worked out that way. If your business came along back when radio first came out, your battery company would be saddled with managing George Burns and Gracie Allen. All you have to do now is write a few paragraphs once a week. You’ve got this!

 

#1 THR, Esq.: Lawsuits of the Stars

THR, Esq., is a sub-blog of The Hollywood Reporter, maintained by senior editor Eriq Gardner. It covers lawsuits and other legal squabbling within the entertainment industry. The stories covered range from the gravely serious, like Harvey Weinstein’s many accusers, to the lighthearted, like the dispute over Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars series or a dispute over a mashup work combining Dr. Seuss with Star Trek.

The sometimes-fun stories illuminate the intricacies of media law in all its variance, including copyright, FCC communications, IP disputes, First Amendment rights, performer contract disputes, and fair use laws. The Star Trek / Dr. Seuss mashup lays out the case where Dr. Seuss Enterprises charges that the work violates its copyright, while defenders of the crowdsourced project counter that it counts as a legally-protected parody. The laws governing mashups pertain to other kinds of media, such as when a music artist samples tracks in another musician’s song for their own song. It’s the kind of new media story we never would have seen twenty years ago.

While THR, Inc., is not marketing for a law firm, we’re putting it upfront because it’s an example of how lively and colorful talking about the law can be. If your firm touches anywhere on media-related litigation, this could be your blog (well, a similar blog like this). Just reporting news within your industry and applying a lawyer’s-eye view to the ins and outs of cases can make the subject come alive to the public.

The legal industry suffers from a bit of an image problem in the public’s mind. People think of the law as a dull topic, to be avoided until circumstances beyond your control literally drag you into a courtroom. You tell people that you’re reading a legal blog and they’ll imagine it’s somebody droning about tort reform or whatever. But THR Esq. turns that around to The Simpsons and Fortnite dancing, fun stuff!

 

#2 TaxProf Blog: Not As Taxing As You Would Think

Now, let’s talk about not one but two subjects that most people would want to avoid, and then add them together. You get TaxProf Blog, a legal blog about tax law maintained by professor Paul L. Caron at Pepperdine’s school of law. Say the phrase “tax law” out loud at your next social gathering and see if people don’t scoot away from you just an inch. But that’s one very good reason to blog this topic. With the exception of people who’ve moved to the Principality of Sealand or otherwise declared themselves sovereign, taxes impact us all, as do the laws under which they’re collected and spent.

The blog does wander a bit in topic, sometimes talking about general tax topics or general legal topics without necessarily delving into the intersection between the two. But a quick skim is an eye-opening experience, with subjects like the political controversy over the Earned Income Credit, the impacts of a federal government shutdown on tax policy, or the pretty scary tale of the campaign of coercion against a Colombian consumer advocate who proposed a 20-cent tax on pop.

It turns out tax law stories do make for good headline news. No doubt, your local Facebook activist has probably shared stories about Wal-Mart’s alleged overseas tax havens or pharmaceutical giant Pfizer-Allergan’s alleged attempts to set up the same.

News that impacts us all is fascinating to the more socially-aware, even if it isn’t in the most exciting topic. Many a law professional has some spark of passion that started them on their career path in the first place; they wanted to fight injustice, side with consumers against big corporations, or preserve the integrity of the Constitution. Sharing the relevancy of that field with the audience today helps them see why it matters to you, and how it impacts them.

Don’t be afraid to take the most boring niche legal specialty in the world and write about it. Digital audiences actually thrive on learning about these specialized niches. In fact, it’s far easier to become an industry thought leader in a little-discussed niche. Every year, there are people who need legal help with their taxes (those radio commercials you hear about tax relief are advertising to them), so the subject is very relevant to them and there are very few resources to find.

 

#3 SCOTUSBlog : Big Court, High Stakes

The Supreme Court of the United States is definitely no stranger to the news headlines. SCOTUSBlog is regularly cited as one of the best law blogs, even winning the ABA’s Silver Gavel Award and the Peabody Award for excellence in electronic media. Visit any legal blog (web parlance: “blawg”) old enough to practice the old-fashioned art of linking to one’s blogroll, and SCOTUSBlog is likely to be on the list.

Obviously, covering Supreme Court news is a field ripe for compelling stories and attention-grabbing headlines. Topics include qualified immunity and police involved in shootings, the issue of faithless electors in a democracy, and the law as applied to mobile robocalls. Of course, there are political issues discussed on every other page, since we are talking about a major branch of the government, after all.

With such a high-profile blog with so many contributors, it is difficult to recommend that a small practice try to emulate this example. It is, however, a gold standard to strive for.

Perhaps you don’t have the resources or skills to cover the federal Supreme Court and win Peabody awards, but there are 50 state supreme courts that could be covered in a similar fashion. There is also no reason why you can’t work off the publicly-available docket of your local county or municipal court and offer commentary on cases compelling to the public. In fact, doing so would give your website a bit higher profile when it comes to local clients seeking a law firm.

 

#4 Popehat: Irreverent Fun

This is one of those “lawyers blowing off steam” blogs we were talking about. Popehat is led by Ken White and a team of assistants, originally aimed at discussing free speech / First Amendment issues, but has eventually turned to a snark-party about all law in general. These days Ken White does more spots on other blogs and links to them from his own.

Popehat has been around for over 15 years as of this writing, curating a reputation as a sassy tart on the legal blog circuit. They rose to fame through coverage of the legal dispute between an online humor website and a webcomic, the FTC’s takedown of an online extortion scam, and the long-running saga of the legal field’s own disbarred circus clown, Jack Tompson. With archives extending back through that much time, it makes great binge-worthy Sunday reading. Pretty much every legal story that has had the Internet in an uproar over the 21st century is covered there.

What’s so special about Popehat? Anyone can theoretically run this kind of show, provided they have the restraint to keep the posts tasteful and always aimed at acceptable targets. Ken White is an actual, practicing lawyer even now, so this goes to show you can be the funny legal blogger and still have a career. Albeit, he did go incognito in the early days of the site. Blogs came out in about 2002, so this makes Popehat one of the earliest pioneers of blogging, period, let alone legal blogging. We can afford him, then, some discretion in not being sure of the rules of the blogging game early on. Popehat is senior enough to have claim to writing the rules.

At the same time, even if you’re tackling the kinds of trivial peccadilloes that the Internet tends to care about, you can still show off your J.D. with serious and insightful legal commentary. Whether talking about a video game fight or mocking conspiracy theories around a terrorist incident, you can still dish up a valid legal opinion.

 

#5 Canna Law Blog: Find a New Niche and Claim It

Last, we turn to the budding (sorry!), or rather fast-growing, cannabis industry. It still seems funny to even say that out loud, but various states in the U.S. plus Canada have legalized marijuana not just for medical use, but for recreational purposes as well. Since this created a brand new industry in which not a living soul is an expert, the firm at Harris | Bricken stepped up to produce Canna Law Blog, about the legal aspects of consumers and businesses in the cannabis industry.

And how fascinating this industry is! It turns out cannabis companies, from cultivators to dispensaries to directories, have the same legal needs as any other industry. They get subpoenaed by the Fed, haggle over non-compete clauses, and even file for bankruptcy. Which has to make us wonder, if you can sell actual drugs and still not make the business work, is the entrepreneur path really right for you?

Despite the subject matter, Canna Law Blog treats this industry with the seriousness it warrants. States which have legalized marijuana have seen billions of dollars in taxable revenue pouring in. Meanwhile, because of the complicated status of cannabis law (still illegal as far as federal law is concerned), the cannabis industry is under-served and struggles to deal with commercial necessities such as insurance or point-of-sale systems. This is practically the only site on the web even bridging the subject.

We’re putting this here as a clear example of jumping into an industry niche. It doesn’t have to be cannabis, nor does it even have to be that new.

Another example of filling a niche is GrokLaw, by paralegal Pamela Jones, a venerated legal blogger whose niche is litigation pertaining to free and open-source software. Maybe not the most exciting topic at first whiff, but she did trace the legal shaping of the technology we now know today behind the WordPress blogging platform and the Android mobile operating system, as well as high-profile cases between Microsoft, Apple, Oracle, IBM, and other Silicon Valley heavy-hitters. If you’re not a tech geek, you’ve likely not heard of GrokLaw, but tech geeks never miss an entry.

GrokLaw was launched in 2003, so it’s even more innovative as one of the first legal blogs on the Internet, at a time when most people didn’t even know what a blog itself was.

The lesson here is the same as Canna Law Blog: Do one thing very well, and you almost can’t help but succeed. There are dozens of legal niches in industries still waiting to have a voice. There are emerging cultures, start-up businesses, evolving industries, and subcultures waiting in the wings. They can get their proverbial “day in court” and have their day in the public eye on your platform, while you gain exposure and respect in the legal industry.

 

Are You Ready to Start Your Legal Blog?

Oh, so much! We have learned that the law can be entertaining, relevant, exciting, intriguing, or engaging. Most of all, we’ve learned that blogging in the context of content marketing puts a legal expert on the map like no other route to media fame in the 2020s. If your law firm runs a legal blog as a public information resource, that almost counts as “pro bono” work and your marketing budget at the same time.

When you blog, not only are you demonstrating your expertise, you’re also helping your law firm climb to the top of the search engine results page. Blogging is a fundamental component of any SEO strategy. When people hit the Internet, looking for answers to their pressing legal questions, they’ll find your blog. So, don’t think of blogging as a waste of time or something that you do for fun. It’s a tried-and-true marketing strategy that will get you more legal clients.

If you want to learn more about SEO, read our article “The Ultimate Guide to SEO.” Or if you want to talk about developing a digital marketing strategy for your law firm, feel free to reach out to us. We’re happy to help.

What is Content Marketing?

When people first hear about content marketing, it usually sparks many questions. How does it differ from traditional marketing? Are there different types of content marketing? What are the benefits of content marketing for your small business? If you’re looking for answers, this article covers all of that.

Traditional marketing often revolves around consistently being in potential customers’ faces, bombarding them with sales messages and advertisements over and over again, usually without the customer’s permission. It’s like feeding a toddler with a very big spoon; of course, you get the food into the toddler’s mouth, but by making the toddler uncomfortable during the process.

Content marketing is the exact opposite.

Instead of forcing your business onto people, you attrcact them to you through helpful, high-quality content. Content that answers their questions, inspires, or shows them how to do things. Effective content doesn’t focus on the business—it focuses on the customer. Because you’ve helped them, people tend to develop a favorable impression of your brand and are more willing to consider your business as a potential solution.

Now, let’s dive in. There’s a lot to learn about creating an effective content marketing strategy.

 

So, What is Content Marketing?

Content marketing involves the production and sharing of content to generate traffic to websites, acquire leads and customers, and grow the business’ revenue. 

Unlike traditional marketing, content marketing is more like permission-based marketing. Potential clients freely invite this type of marketing into their lives and sometimes share it with their friends. To gain the trust of your potential customers, you need to provide relevant and useful information; content marketing is built on this idea. The objective of implementing content marketing is to provide actionable insights that will guide your target audience to exactly what they might be interested in.

 

The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as, “a marketing process whereby a company or marketer seeks to create and distribute relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, nurture, and engage a clearly-defined audience. The goal is to effectively drive profitable customer action.”

 

Why is Content Marketing Important?

Content marketing is a popular strategy for modern marketers—the proliferation of blogs, eBooks, white papers, and videos attest to its popularity. It frequently delivers higher conversions than traditional marketing outlets—including radio, TV, and newspapers. Almost every business that wants to have high rankings on the search engines is doing one form of content marketing or the other. There’s a chance that your competitors are too. According to data from the Content Marketing Institute, more than 91% of B2B companies are using content marketing to improve their bottom line.

My mom always told me not to do something just because everyone else is doing it, but because of what I stand to gain. With content marketing, you stand to gain a lot.

Now, let’s consider some of the benefits of content marketing.

 

4 Benefits of Content Marketing

1. Content Marketing is the Heart of a Customer’s Journey

Let’s look at this illustration. Let’s say you are interested in buying a gaming PC (I love gaming), and the first thing you do is go to Google with some queries like “number one gaming PC” or “best affordable gaming PC.” Well, it should interest you to know that you’re not the only one using this buying strategy. GroupM conducted research and found that a whopping 86% of buyers begin their customer journey with non-branded search queries like that.

What’s even more interesting is that users trust organic results more than paid ads. Another research study confirms that about 85% of users ignore paid ads and focus on organic search results instead. With consumers interested in gaining knowledge about a product before they buy, content can shape a customer’s choice and experience.

2. Content Builds Brand Awareness, Trust, and Loyalty

Customer-first marketing is an effective marketing approach. It’s always a win-win situation for both consumers and marketing brands when brands educate and inform consumers by creating valuable content. The quality of your content will determine how your brand performs. In the findings of the Havas Group, “meaningfulness” in brand marketing can increase wallet share up to nine times. By creating high-quality content, at the same time, you’re increasing the trust your customers have in your brand.

3. Content Powers Sales and Drives Purchase Decisions

Although content marketing isn’t as easy as it sounds, its rewards are reaped over time. Currently, the most effective way to drive conversions is through content marketing. Several studies have shown that effective content marketing is six times more powerful than traditional marketing when it comes to converting website visitors into leads and customers. Content is often the driving force behind the decisions of a potential customer. A quick look at the Demand Gen Report revealed that 47% of buyers viewed three-to-five pieces of content before engaging with a sales rep.

A B2B Buyer’s Survey Report shows that:

  • 75% of customers agree that the content brands created had a “significant impact” on what product they ended up buying.
  • 89% of respondents stated that they prefer that winning vendors provide helpful content that made it easier to show ROI.

4. Content Marketing Puts Your Audience First

Content marketing focuses on the needs of your target audience. Instead of flashy advertisements and feature-heavy sales pitches, content marketing answers buyers’ questions. Content isn’t focused on the brand; it’s focused on the buyer. The key to successful content marketing is cultivating a deep understanding of your buyer and then using that information to create resources that help them make better buying decisions.

In the words of Gill Worby, Head of Digital Marketing at Virgin Media:

“Previously, we always thought about what we wanted to talk about and now we talk about what our audience wants us to say. This is against a backdrop of people wanting to be educated, entertained and stimulated every minute of every day, and it is harder than ever to grab people’s attention.” 

That said, take a closer look at these striking content marketing statistics:

  • Online consumers benefit from a brand’s content. In the Havas Group’s Meaningful Brands Study, 84% of consumers always look for fresh and valuable content from a brand.
  • Roughly 70% of people want to discover and learn about products through content versus traditional (often annoying) advertisements.
  • 96% of B2B buyers want more input and content from industry thought leaders.
  • Nearly 100% of successful B2B content marketers prioritize the audience’s informational needs over their promotional message.

Types of Content Marketing (Various Ways to Implement Content Marketing)

Content marketing is a proven strategy for capturing the hearts and minds of your target audience. It’s often referred to as “pull marketing” since it draws readers and potential customers in—instead of pushing them to you, as traditional marketing techniques often do. However, for content marketing to yield significant results, it needs to be implemented through proven channels and methodologies.

Let’s examine some of the various ways to get results with content marketing:

Blogging

A very effective type of content marketing is publishing a blog that answers common questions your buyers have. Don’t take blogging lightly. Companies that blog consistently generate 64% more leads than those who do not, based on HubSpot’s study. In the State of Inbound Report, generating traffic and leads are the two main challenges that companies are facing. If you struggle with generating traffic and leads, blogging could be a solution.

inbound marketing challenges

Blog posts increase your site’s relevancy in organic search results. With high-quality blog posts, visitors will spend more time on your website, which is an all-important ranking factor that Google seeks to reward. Therefore, a blog post could be a low-budget organic traffic booster.

Good blog posts should include:

  • Content that addresses a specific question or answers a question related to the search intent of the keyword(s).
  • The use of a pillar or cluster model to organize your blog topics.
  • Content relevant to your products or services.

Videos

We all love videos, don’t we? Hubspot research states that 54% of audiences want to see videos from brands they support. A good way to captivate your audience is by creating high-quality video content that would build customers’ suspense and leave them wanting more. A good video marketing strategy could prove very effective in attracting customers.

For instance, almost every country in the world benefits from Microsoft. Recent Microsoft commercials emphasize how they define “everyone.” The main message is focused on how Microsoft’s technology can inspire anyone to achieve their dreams.

YouTube is another channel you should consider using, as it’s the largest video sharing platform in the world. Its growth has been on the increase because people love watching videos. For long-term success with video marketing, you need to create videos around your brand story, not the sale. Warby Parker’s How Glasses are Made video demonstrates effective storytelling through video.

It highlights how the brand started, the ethos, culture, and the desire to encourage people to showcase their eyewear.

Infographics

As the name implies, infographics display information in the form of graphics. Infographics are low-cost to produce and can be very effective if done properly, especially if concrete data is involved. A well-designed infographic is easy to understand and provides value to the viewer. You can design infographics yourself using Canva, Adobe Creative Suite, or outsource to a professional graphic designer at Dribbble or Upwork.

Case Studies

Case studies are one of the best ways to implement content marketing. But why is that? Well, it’s because, with case studies, you’re showing people typical results. They get to follow a buyer’s journey and relate it to their situation. This case study shows how Capgemini, a consulting company, generated nearly one million new visitors in the first year by engaging the audience in a content marketing campaign. Take a look at our case studies. In them, we walk you through our client’s challenges, our marketing strategy, and the results that we were able to achieve.

eBooks and White Papers

eBooks and white papers are similar to long-form blog posts. However, they often include more information. They’re typically organized into sections so that it’s easy to learn new information. Tips, step-by-step instructions, and checklists are often included.

eBooks and white papers are typically offered for free. However, to access them, you have to provide your email address. This is a great way to build an email list. Once you have their email, you can nurture them with relevant content and offers until they’re ready to buy.

 

What is a Content Marketing Strategy?

Now that you know what content marketing is, its benefits, and the various ways to execute it to get great results, you may think you’re good to go—but there’s one piece of the puzzle that’s left.

You need to have a content strategy.

Content strategy consists of the ways you manage any content you own. Who you are and the know-how you bring to your industry is demonstrated by your content strategy.

For effective content marketing, we’ll delve into some of the points you need to consider in your strategy.

How to Create a Content Marketing Strategy

This is the section where we learn the basic steps involved in creating a content marketing strategy.

1. Define Your Goal

Do you have a tangible reason why you need a content marketing plan? Of course, everyone wants to generate leads and convert them into buyers and brand ambassadors. But knowing exactly what your goal is will make it easier to determine what content will work for you. Maybe you want to grow a specific product line? Or enter a new market?

If you set your goals before you start planning your content, you will develop a more effective strategy.

2. Conduct Persona Research

Knowing the audience that you plan to target with your content is imperative for a successful content marketing strategy. After setting your goals, research your audience so you know everything you can about them. This is even more important for new marketers. By knowing your audience, you can create content that will answer their questions, therefore, increasing your conversion rate. Whether you’re experienced in the business of marketing or your target audience has changed, buyer persona research is still important, especially if you intend on targeting a new group of consumers or widen your present audience. My advice is that you conduct market research each year. This is crucial in growing your business.

3. Run a Content Audit

Most content marketers start by publishing blog posts. But if you feel the need to stand out or change the direction of other content pieces, make sure you know what will work for you and your audience. You may need a spreadsheet template like this to get started.

For instance, if you’ve been on the weekly blog posts path for the past year, creating a video that further explains your blog posts with detailed illustrations is another way of providing helpful information. If you’re not new to content marketing, conduct an audit of your present content marketing strategy and look for new ways to improve, set new goals, and embark on better ways to achieve them.

4. Choose a Content Management System

Having a system for your content management will bring structure to your marketing efforts. A content management system must, at the very least, include:

  • Content creation
  • Content publication
  • Content analytics

New marketing software like Hubspot Marketing Automation Software, can also help you plan, publish and produce, all in one place. Some software even allows you to measure your results. Content management can also be carried out using a WordPress website hosted on a WP engine.

 

Examples of Content Marketing (Content Marketing Case Study)

Both small and large companies are capitalizing on the immense benefits of content marketing to drive traffic, leads, and sales. Here is an example of content marketing from a trusted brand: The Coca-Cola Company.

Coke’s “Share a Coke” Campaign

I don’t think there’s anyone on this planet who hasn’t heard about this campaign—unless you’re living in a cave in isolation somewhere. With Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign, anyone could personalize their drink. Coca-Cola researched the most popular names in Nigeria, for instance, and added them to the bottle’s label, and people loved it. Everyone wanted to share a Coke.

Personalization is the reason behind this campaign’s success. Coke made each person feel special, I mean, you could buy a bottle and see your name on it. Here, Coca-Cola puts its customers first. Coke wasn’t using any online targeting method. Instead, it targeted what most consider as very important to them— their names. Research by eConsultancy shows that 74% of marketers understand that personalization increases customer engagement. But, only 19% of them ever use it. Here’s what you can take from this example: put yourself in your customer’s shoes and work on how to get them to listen to your brand’s message. Personalization and emotional connection are good places to start.

 

Now You’re Ready to Develop Your Content Marketing Strategy

If providing great customer experiences while generating leads and conversions is your goal, then content marketing is the right place to begin. With all the great benefits of content marketing as mentioned in this article, I am surprised that not everyone is on board. But that’s good news for you. Now, you can get serious with content marketing to drive qualified traffic and leads to your online ventures. Remember to create an editorial content calendar. This will keep you organized, help you overcome distractions, and channel all your efforts towards creating and distributing content that potential buyers can’t resist.

If you need help developing your content marketing strategy or creating content, feel free to reach out to us. We’d be happy to help you connect with your audience through useful, relevant content.

 

Creating “Content Hubs” on Your University Website to Cater to Your Varied Audiences

Unlike traditional businesses – that tend to have specific audience segments they’re looking to attract – schools and universities aim to attract people from a varied background, each with their own interests and relationship with your institution.

While each school is unique, it’s fair to say that the types of people you typically look to attract include:

  • Prospective students – Clearly this audience segment comes to mind first. Your school relies on the recruitment of new, incoming students each and every year.
  • Current students – Just because you have successfully attracted a student to your school doesn’t mean that student isn’t open to the idea of transferring elsewhere. Part of your marketing efforts likely do (or should) target your current students to keep them engaged.
  • Alumni – This, too, is an important population to reach out to. Alumni can be your biggest financial supporters and brand evangelists, actively reaching out to future prospects.
  • Faculty – Your faculty is no different from current students; they might be satisfied with their experiences at your institution; but unless you continue to deliver an amazing experience to your faculty, you risk losing them to your competition.
  • Parents – Often times, it’s the parents of students who make key financial decisions, including whether your school is providing the type of educational experiences their children deserve.

Review that list above again for a moment. Aside from your school, there’s not much else each of these population segments have in common. Each have their own motivations; each have their own internal conversations as they surf the web or browse your site.

How, then, can you successfully keep each of these audience segments engaged and happy with your institution?

It comes down to your school’s website.

Your website is singlehandedly your most important digital asset and, some would argue, your most important marketing tool. But, as an institution with a lot to offer, and many people to try and cater to, your website could also become a cluttered and confusing mess.

That is, unless, you structure your site with your users in mind.

How do you do that? What we often recommend for our education clients that have a digital marketing strategy is to create content hubs on their website.

What is a content hub?

There are many different types of content hubs, but a good example of what our digital marketing agency recommends can be seen if you visit the site of Colby Sawyer, a liberal arts school based in Waterville, Maine.

Colby College’s main website can be found at http://colby.edu.

For all accounts and purposes, their homepage doesn’t look much different from other school websites. Some would argue, actually, that it’s far less complex than other school homepages – it’s just one main screen, which forces the visitor to navigate the menu to make their next move.

You’ll see in that main navigation some of the same items used in schools across the country. “Alumni.” “Parents.” “Admissions.” “Academics.”

Each of these menu items help the visitor to funnel to a section of the Colby site that closely matches their needs.

If we click on the Alumni option, here’s what we’re greeted with next.

This is a pretty standard sub-page on the Coly site. The URL is straight forward: http://www.colby.edu/colbyalumni/. By developing a sub-page specific just to alumni, Colby can tailor the content on this page to a very narrow group of visitors.

That includes adding customized buttons and calls-to-action on the site, specific to alumni.

In the image above, you see a sub-menu of items including: “Give”, “Volunteer”, “Alumni Council” and more.

What you won’t see is that sub-menu on the main Colby homepage, nor on any of its sub-pages that aren’t tailored to alumni.

That’s because a typical school website is already inundated with an overwhelming number of menu items – due to the nature of the institution. Finding ways to minimize information overload is key toward keeping your visitors engaged.

Colby has done this brilliantly through simple site structuring.

This entire sub-page – as well as the sub-pages for Parents and more, are pretty good examples of content hubs; however, Colby goes even further.

Take, for example, what happens when we go to the Alumni landing page, and then click on the menu item “Join/Login to Colby Connect”:

We aren’t just taken to a new page – we’re taken to a new site: https://colbyconnect.com/.

This little portal gives Colby the ability to develop an entire resource center, just for alumni. Not only does this provide alumni with a unique, and positive, experience. But it also makes them feel like they’re part of an exclusive club (which they are), and as any marketer will tell you, if you want to create lifelong customers, make them feel like a part of something.

Here, Colby did just that.

But as we mentioned at the start of this article, schools like yours aim to attract many types of audiences, not just alumni.

That’s why Colby also created a content hub for its current students. It’s called Inside Colby:

The site itself is pretty simple – it’s a blog. But, more importantly, it’s a site “for students, by students.”

Current students use this microsite to share their on-campus experiences and other glimpses of life on campus. This type of user-generated content reduces the cost of the school to market this type of messaging, but it also helps add transparency and trust between the school and students, as well as prospects.

That’s because although the portal is aimed at existing students, its content is public and can serve as a powerful draw for recruiting new students.

The residual effects of these content hubs

Above we outlined three different types of content hubs. The traditional – or sub-pages on your site; the substantial portal (the alumni login site), as well as the more laid-back, user-guided “Inside Colby” site.

Each are designed to attract targeted audiences and keep them engaged. Here’s why that’s so important to your institution.

For starters, you of course want to deliver a positive user experience, simply to strengthen the weight of your brand.

But from our SEO standpoint, these pages and sites offer a multitude of benefits.

When you build microsites and sub-pages (often referred to as landing pages) with targeted messaging, you then can optimize those corners of your website with keywords and phrases. That way, when one of your targeted audiences conducts a Google search, they’ll most likely stumble upon a page or post that answers their question.

If they do, then they’re likely to spend more time on your pages and site (which Google registers as a positive indication of the content you provided). They’ll also be less likely to exit your site quickly (known as a bounce), which again, is seen favorably by Google and other search engines.

As a result, search engines will reward your website as a whole with higher rankings, because they can feel confident that the experience you provide to your audiences is positive, and in line with the searches they’re conducting.

Building out your content hubs

We recommend you list out your target audience segments, and brainstorm what type of content hub these audiences would want to see.

Generally speaking, parents and alumni each would like to be a part of something exclusive, while students and prospects want to hear from their peers, rather than from official school representatives.

With that understanding, how do you think you could restructure your site to deliver the best possible user experience for all of your visitors?

Content Marketing vs. Clever Advertising

Throughout the past few years advertising has really stepped up it’s game. Engagement has reached an all time high and we will only continue to see the creativity the advertising and content marketing world has to offer. Although all of the examples below are impeccably creative and clever there are only a few that can qualify as true content marketing.

Content Marketing Qualifiers consist of:

1. Focus on attracting/retaining target audience segments+
2. Sharing compelling, useful, and/or entertaining content
3. Consistent delivery – not a one-time campaign initiative
4. Subscription options for customers/prospects for ongoing conversations
5. Goals revolve around guiding buyers through the purchase process to loyalty

Content is not focused on products/services – instead it is focused on information that addresses audience pain points. It helps audiences accomplish a desired task.

Let’s explore some recent campaigns to identify if they reach beyond creativity and cleverness to the world of content marketing.

AMEX Open Forum = Content Marketing 

American Express built a platform that allows consumers and industry experts to connect for financial advising, conversations, entertaining content, informational articles and much more.

The site provides a great user experience and publishes great content everyday. It is also the largest source of inbound leads for small business card division.

Geico’s “So Easy a Caveman Can Do It;” = Clever Advertising

This could be content marketing if they had continued the campaign in some fashion, but it ran for a certain amount of time and then was discontinued.

The Geico Gecko however is an example of content marketing because he is a consistent character that target audiences associate with the brand and connect within each campaign strategy.

Clorox: Dr. Laundry’s Blog = Content Marketing

One of the scientists at Clorox acts as a “Dear Abby” for stain removal tips. She helps people by answering questions about the best ways to get out specific stains, even if the solution isn’t tied to a Clorox product.

Clorox consistently publishes fresh content that is solely meant to address pain points and educate the audience.

Snickers “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry:” = Clever Advertising and Content Marketing 

This is labeled as both because the idea for the overall campaign is focused on adaptive content/content marketing, but each tactic used within the campaign (Ex: misspelled words paid campaign) is clever advertising.

Oreo 100 Days Campaign = Clever Advertising

This campaign does not qualify as content marketing due to the conclusion of the campaign. Also, Oreo’s Dark Ad campaign during the Superbowl blackout qualifies for really clever advertising but also came to an end.

How are your campaigns doing? Are you using content marketing or clever advertising? Do you have other great examples to share?

If you want help building a marketing strategy that keeps people talking contact us today.

Link Building: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

What is the proper etiquette of link building you ask? Google has made it very clear that there are “to-do’s” and “to-don’ts” when it comes to placement and utilization of linking as a whole. It would be absurd to avoid the resource all together on the off chance that you may be penalized, so here are a few points from our digital marketing company to be aware of when venturing into the world of link building.

The Good

  1. Balance –  Google is all about balance. Getting backlinks from multiple sites a number of times is acceptable, but the trigger you need to watch out for is the pattern. If Google notices a pattern in the numbers or placements of your backlinks and their validity they will intervene. Key tactics to implement are placing brand name and URL as anchor text. This is a great SEO strategy and Google expects this.
  2. Press Releases – Press releases are also a great place for link building. Obviously they were created to inform society of events that are newsworthy. Do not post a multitude of press releases with minimal news to gain backlinks. Only include a link back to your website if it is natural or in the “About the Company” section.
  3. Review Sites – Being connected and listed on review sites is a positive move. Google sees the value of a review and posting links here is acceptable. In the recent Google Pigeon update, directory visibility was increased. This subsequently means that you are not only getting a link, but you are also placing your company on a highly ranked website with increased visibility which will improve your rank and visibility.
  4. Google+ – Google+ is a great platform that offers similar benefits to Linkedin. They definitely have their differences, but the similarity lies in the fact that you can post links to all of your social media networks and your website. Also, why would Google penalize you on their own site? They wouldn’t.
  5. Guest Blogging – Here is a great way to show Google that you are building relationships. Reach out to blogs that are related to your industry and where you feel that your expertise can be useful to audiences. Here you are building relationships, creating relevant and unique content and gaining links. The key trigger to be aware of in this situation is that you cannot get paid for your efforts. Buying and selling links, even if you are getting paid for the writing rather than buying the link, is against Google’s terms of service and will result in a penalty.
  6. Storify – Storify is another important tool to utilize in relationship building. You are creating content and adding your own brand voice while linking to other users and noting their efforts. Also, when others see that you have curated their social media posts they will often share your article, increasing visibility. After creating a Storify you absolutely should promote it on all forms of social media which will then create backlinks in your favor as well as providing links for others.
  7. Infographics – Not only do infographics grab attention and provide a great outlet for content, they also build links. Also shareable on all social media platforms, infographics are a must have.
  8. Videos – Videos have been noted to generate the most purchases over all other types of content advertising. You can create a Youtube or Vimeo account for free and place your website’s link under each video you produce. Videos can also be embedded into landing pages, blog posts and social media posts for better user experience and engagement. Double wammy is what I’m thinking.
  9. Social Bookmarking – Resources such as Redditt and Dig are platforms that allow you to post content and be seen without having to gain followers. This can be a positive way to educate audiences using your already creative and relevant content and garner links.

The Bad and the Ugly

  1. Pattern – Having too much repetition or pattern behind your backlink strategy is asking to be penalized. Generally anything on a mass scale is frowned upon and can majorly hurt your rankings.
  2. Bad Anchor Text – As stated above, brand name and URL in anchor text is appropriate, but you must be cautious of implementing anchor text on the same set of keyphrases over and over again. For example, Google would refer “Atlanta SEO” rather than “Atlantic Digital Marketing Company” to be “over-optimized” anchor text and can result in a penalty.
  3. Buying and Selling – Buying and selling links can get you in the most trouble of all. The best way to avoid this is obviously not to do it. Another guard against the wrath of Google would be to place a “no follow” in your code. For example, if you sponsored a little league baseball team, it’s fine to get a link from the league website. But it should be “no followed” so that Google doesn’t think you were supporting the team JUST to get a link. There have been instances when companies have indulged in buying and selling links and have lost their ranking entirely. Beware!
  4. Excessive Link Exchanges – Casual linking to a client is acceptable, but if all of your links are coming from the same place because you have cut a deal then that is bad. Make sure that you are being cautious of the pattern once again.
  5. Writing just for the Link of it – Google wants quality links. Writing an article that isn’t relevant, unique or really any good at all and adding link after link will get you flagged. Also, commenting on blogs and adding links keywords or branded terms in the first place isn’t as sneaky as you might think.
  6. Footer Links – For some companies it seems obvious to place a link to your website at the footer of every landing page on a site that you are referenced on. The reference is okay due to the relationship building aspect, but Google suggests that site wide links should be marked as “no follow.”

While link building is changing and becoming more manual, it is an extremely important practice for your visibility online and should not be avoided. There are plenty of ways to utilize this resource and our SEO department hopes that you can go forth and conquer with these few tips.

Atlantic Digital Marketing Company has a slew of digital marketers who are eager to grow your company through strategic, targeted solutions. Consider partnering with us to further your company’s knowledge and digital strength by getting a quote today.

How Brand Storytelling Improves Sales and Audience Engagement

At the heart of internet marketing is the idea of storytelling. As is the case with any good storyteller, brands need a compelling hook to engage audiences.

A study done by Google explored the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT), which identified factors shaping consumer decisions on the path to purchase. The study showed that 88 percent of consumers perform research before making a purchase in-store or online, consulting 10.4 sources on average.

Google also found that the purchase journey was completely different for 3,000 shoppers in industries ranging from tech and CPG to auto and finance. One of the few similarities between all of the shoppers was that they all began their journey through online search.

>What does this have to do with brand storytelling, you ask? Well, if your website doesn’t offer something unique or personally meaningful that hooks shoppers and retains their interest, then you are at a disadvantage against those other nine competitors. Online competition increases exponentially everyday, which makes content strategy that much more important for heightening brand visibility.

Professional Storytelling Consultant and Trainer, Geoffrey Berwind, told Forbes that “great leaders recognize that human connections need to go before concepts and strategies: connect first with your prospects, your audiences — then get down to business.”

According to Berwind, stories are a shared experience. He believes that humans are hard-wired to receive information primarily through storytelling because it triggers the ancient human muscle of imagination.

So, what are a few examples of powerful brand storytelling that can take your company’s content marketing strategy to the next level?

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Learning from Buzzfeed’s Content Strategy

I will openly admit that I am a Buzzfeed addict. Now, as a child who dreamt of being a reporter at the Washington Post, I never thought that I would be so interested in a website that posts “listical” journalistic content, but hey, times change.

What really fascinates me about Buzzfeed is the site’s content strategy. Since it was founded in 2006, Buzzfeed has grown into a global news site with more than 130 million unique visitors a month.

While it may be hard to believe that a website which features articles like “The 30 Most Important Onesies In the History of Fashion” offers valuable content lessons, there is a lot to be learned from Buzzfeed.

Know Your Target Demographic Well

Of course, knowing who you’re speaking to is the first rule of content marketing, and while this philosophy predates Buzzfeed, the website definitely mastered it quickly. The content team understands that large portions of Buzzfeed’s audience are 20-somethings, young professionals, college students, female, etc. They market to these individuals’ wide range of interests, offering articles on everything from political issues and international diplomacy to sports, cute animals and celebrity gossip.

Any business can improve its content strategy by realizing that their target demographic is not one-dimensional. 40-year-old men who like cigars also probably like sports, cooking, vacations, restaurants, television, scotch, beer, etc. Companies can look at those various interests and see which marketing tactic would be the most beneficial. For instance, a cigar company could write blog posts on the “Five Best Scotch and Cigar Pairings” or “Top Tobacco Farms to Visit on Vacation.”

‘Snackability’ is Important

Creating concise and engaging content is important for user retention, which is why Buzzfeed relies so heavily on a list format and a lot of visual stimulation in its posts. A new study put out by Sticky found that websites have 1.7 seconds to engage consumers, which is why it’s important to put time and resources into creating interesting content that will also build brand awareness.

Native Advertising

One of the biggest differentiators that sets Buzzfeed apart from other websites is the heavy use of native advertising. According to Buzzfeed’s research, 75 percent of its audience visits the site looking for something to share on social media. By integrating creative ads into editorial content companies are able to build even more brand awareness. Every day Buzzfeed sees increased interest from many different advertisers because using ad copy or content to advertise places the ad within prime real estate on the page and allows brands to connect directly with certain demographics.

A good example of this is Virgin Media’s article titled “27 cats that just can’t handle it.” Since it was posted, the piece has been shared more than 18,000 times on Facebook and received upwards of 600,000 views on social media. Now, this level of success is not guaranteed with every ad campaign, but Virgin Media found an innovative way to turn ad copy into viral content. If this proves anything, it’s that the effort put into content and creative marketing strategies is a good long term investment.

Content is a Long Term Investment

The biggest lesson companies should learn from Buzzfeed is to focus on building an enduring brand presence through their content as well as other marketing strategies. While short term results are always ideal, it is important to invest time and effort into long term marketing solutions. This can be done through website content, blog posts, press releases ad copy and advertising campaigns.

Why Nostalgia is Useful in Marketing

As Miley Cyrus displayed a new purpose for foam fingers, I, along with masses of millennials, had only turned on the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) for one reason: *NSYNC.

Yep, rumor had it that the boy band — who spawned the Jimmy Fallon proclaimed, “President of Pop,” Justin Timberlake — would reunite on the VMA stage. As *NSYNC was/is/will always be an embodiment of the happiest days of my tween years, I had to see it, and you can bet MTV knew this.

Throughout history, nostalgia has been a surefire way for brands to garner attention and gain new fans while reinvigorating old ones. But why do we always long for “the good ol’ days”? What is it about nostalgia that successful marketing campaigns have tapped into?

PlayStation: Why We’ve Played Since 1995

One clear definition of nostalgia is “a yearning for the return of past circumstances, events, etc.” Sony used this feeling in their biggest marketing campaign to date: the release of PlayStation 4.

#playstationmemory

The gaming giant utilized Twitter and YouTube to celebrate 19 years of PlayStation’s relevancy in the gaming world. On Twitter, fans tweeted their craziest, most fun, most warming, most memorable experience using the hashtag #playstationmemory. Some of the tweets that stuck in my mind mentioned Crash Bandicoot, Tomb Raider, and Parappa the Rapper.

On YouTube, Sony’s promo video “Players Since 1995” (hashtag #4ThePlayers) is a fun timeline of how much has changed with PlayStation since its birth. From the different versions of the console, the many games in their catalog, all the cheats (back, back, X anyone?), PlayStation is not only a part of our present, they shaped a huge part of our past.

Sony’s approach to nostalgia encompassed one idea: we (game console and the gamer) are all growing and changing, but there’s a reason we’ve all been gamers since 1995, and PlayStation will always remind us why.

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