Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Conversion Rate Conundrum: Common Mistakes and What to Do Instead

In real estate, the axiom is location, location, location. It’s first and foremost. The number one consideration.

For your digital efforts – email, web pages, eCommerce platforms – an argument could be made for a few different ones: search engine optimization (SEO), the user experience (UX), conversion rate optimization (CRO), or perhaps something else entirely.

Ask five experts and you’ll probably end up with five different answers. But what’s really the end goal? Why are you doing whatever it is you’re doing?

Conversion, conversion, conversion.

Whether that means signing up, downloading, opting in, subscribing, or purchasing, you want your target to do something. Ultimately, everything else should be assisting that one objective.

With apologies to Meghan Trainor, I’m going to suggest it’s all about that CRO. SEO is obviously necessary, but traffic alone is meaningless. And the UX? A happy and satisfied user is imperative, but try paying your rent with one.

So, at the risk of drawing the wrath of the SEO and UX camps, they both fall under the CRO umbrella (they’re all very, very important, though). But – and this is a big but – it’s a massive mistake to believe that SEO and/or UX alone will do much for your CVR.

Start with the end in mind. You need to focus on specific ways to improve your conversion rate.

CRO: An Uphill Battle

Consider this: a couple of years ago, 80% left a site without doing anything. No conversion. That figure is up to 96% in 2017. The global average CVR of online shoppers early this year was 2.48%. Those stats are a bit scary.

The good news? With numbers like that, things can only get better. It just takes time, effort, and a systematic, active approach.

But don’t fall victim to these traps, pitfalls, and mistakes.

Your Mistake: Focusing On the Wrong Things

Quick question: would you rather have something beautiful, or something functional? Would you rather be clever, or understood?

I’ll be blunt…beautiful things are nice, but functional things are essential. And that goes double for your email marketing, website, eCommerce portal, or app.

And clever? Don’t get me started. Clever headlines and subject lines don’t mean a thing if no one clicks or opens them. Consumers want to know what it’s about immediately. They don’t want to have to guess or click or open before finding out (and most won’t anyway).

Be functional. Be clear. Full stop.

Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good looking website. Nor should your headline be boring and the first dull thing that pops into your head. Quite the contrary. But if you’re putting beauty over function and cleverness over clarity, you’re doing it wrong.

A breathtaking site that’s confusing and awkward to navigate but bursting with clever puns, wordplay, and double entendres may win you fans, but few or no conversions. Which do you want?

Do this instead…

Put your customers first. Consider their wants and needs. Use every available data source – analytics (Kissmetrics goes much deeper than Google…just sayin’), industry studies, surveys, polls, etc. – to identify and create detailed buyer personas. Then, create a site for them.

But don’t stop there. Once you have it where you think it should be, have others take it out for a spin. Try an impartial and third-party service like UserTesting to get invaluable video of real people using your site. Where did it fail them? Take that insight and tweak.

Next, turn to the old standby: A/B testing. You’d be surprised by the big results you can get from tiny changes. Use a testing tool like Optimizely or Visual Website Optimizer to confirm your theories about colors, placement, copy, design, images, and more.

One site saw a conversion lift of 304% simply by moving the CTA button from above-the-fold to below it.

Don’t make it look pretty. Make it practical.

Having said that, a cheap, outdated design with grainy stock photos isn’t going to cut it, either. People won’t trust it – or you – and if they don’t believe you’re trustworthy, they won’t convert. Keep your design clean and modern, and use high quality images of your products and people.

Finally, always opt for clear – Get Your Free Trial – over clever – Click or I Kill This Puppy.

Your Mistake: You’re Targeting Just One Platform

Desktop. Tablet. Mobile. Which one is most important?

It’s a trick question. You’ve no doubt heard a lot about the increasing role of mobile devices when it comes to the online world. Chances are virtually everyone around you is staring at their smartphone screen.

Google announced a change to its algorithm in mid-2015 that made mobile-readiness a ranking factor. Since then, more people access the internet on a mobile device than a desktop computer.

Like any good webmaster, you’ve dutifully checked the mobile-friendly tool and made sure your pages passed the mobile test. Kudos.

But the desktop is not dead. Far from it.

Image Source

More people shop weekly online using their desktop than a mobile phone, and the same number shop daily using both.

Traditional desktop computers still boast a higher conversion rate than both tablets and mobile phones. In fact, desktops had a CVR that was more than 3x higher than smartphones for American shoppers in 2016 (3.55% vs 1.15% respectively).

Mobile at the expense of desktop? Bad idea.

So how about desktop over mobile?

We’ve already mentioned that more people head online using a mobile device than desktop computers, so you’d be waving goodbye to a huge chunk of potential.

And when it comes to your local market, you’re missing out if your platform isn’t mobile-ready. More local searches result in a purchase when made on a smartphone than those made on a desktop (78% vs 61% respectively).

Finally, 59% of smartphone users expect a website to be mobile-friendly and feel frustrated when it’s not. They’ll leave and likely never return.

No mobile? No way.

Image Source

Do this instead…

The solution should be obvious. Desktop or mobile? You need both. And tablets, too. Create a website or portal that looks and functions equally well on all three, and you’re ahead of the curve.

In big markets like the United States, Canada, China, and the United Kingdom, the vast majority are multi-platform people.

Image Source

Try a tool like Screenfly or WhatIsMyScreenResolution to see for yourself. Is everything legible? Are the buttons and links spread out and big enough to be easily tapped on a touchscreen? Do you use more scrolling than clicking?

Google recommends you use a responsive site design rather than dynamic content or a separate mobile URL. And it’s best to follow their advice. Of course, there’s a lot more to mobile optimization, but this is enough to get you started.

The key takeaway: Don’t sacrifice one for the other. Design and optimize for desktop, tablet, and mobile, and watch that CVR head north.

Your Mistake: You Don’t Care About Speed

This can’t get any simpler: speed matters. For your customers and the search engines. So be fast.

As you beef your site up with tools, HD images, videos, and more, your speed suffers. If you believe that a practical, responsive site and good products are enough, you’re wrong. Why?

Because if your page takes too long to load, they’ll leave before even experiencing any of that.

Nearly half of web users expect a page to load in under 2 seconds, and 79% won’t return to a site with performance issues like slow load times.

As much as 83% of users expect a page to load in under 3 seconds, and a 1 second improvement in your load time can produce a 7% increase in conversions. That’s right.

The godfather of eCommerce – Amazon – experiences a 1% loss in revenue for every 100ms delay…that’s just one-tenth of a second.

Do this instead…

Care about speed and load time. A lot. Actively work to make your pages faster and more streamlined.

Google suggests that your site take no more than 2-3 seconds to load. At most. How do you measure up?

There are other mistakes that negatively affect your CVR: you give up too easily (solution: retargeting, cart abandonment emails, etc.), no social proof (solution: add social proof), weak call-to-action (solution: make it active, make it clear, test, and optimize), and more.

Check out some of the great tutorials by Neil Patel, Glide, Kissmetrics, and HubSpot if you want to dig deeper and go further. In the meantime, find and fix these three mistakes to shift your CRO into overdrive.

Because online, it’s conversion, conversion, conversion.

About the Author: Daniel Kohn is the CEO and co-founder of SmartMail, a company that helps E-commerce stores and online retailers increase sales, average order value, and lifetime customer value through email. Download SmartMail’s 4 highest converting email templates to help jumpstart your E-commerce email marketing program.

The Brit Agency Is Now A HubSpot Platinum Partner!

Inbound Marketing Firm, The Brit Agency, Gets Promoted To HubSpot Platinum Partner

Toronto, ON, Canada, and Salisbury, UK - August 16th, 2017 - The Brit Agency (www.thebritagency.com), an Inbound Marketing Agency and HubSpot partner, is excited to announce it has been elevated to the prestigious Platinum level of HubSpot's Agency Partner Program. With this accomplishment, and based upon a number of metrics, The Brit Agency has been recognized as one of the top tier HubSpot Agencies around the world.

22 Companies With Really Catchy Slogans & Brand Taglines

Keep it simple, stupid.

We don't mean to offend you -- this is just an example of a great slogan that also bears the truth of the power of succinctness in advertising.

It's incredibly difficult to be succinct, and it's especially difficult to express a complex emotional concept in just a couple of words -- which is exactly what a slogan does.

That's why we have a lot of respect for the brands that have done it right. The ones that have figured out how to convey their value proposition to their buyer persona in just one, short sentence -- and a quippy one, at that.

So if you're looking to get a little slogan inspiration of your own, take a look at some of our favorite company slogans from both past and present. But before we get into specific examples, let's quickly go over what a slogan is and what makes one stand out.

What Is a Slogan?

In business, a slogan or tagline is "a catchphrase or small group of words that are combined in a special way to identify a product or company," according to Entrepreneur.com's small business encyclopedia.

In many ways, they're like mini-mission statements.

Companies have slogans for the same reason they have logos: advertising. While logos are visual representations of a brand, slogans are audible representations of a brand. Both formats grab consumers' attention more readily than the name a company or product might. Plus, they're simpler to understand and remember.

The goal? To leave a key brand message in consumers' minds so that, if they remember nothing else from an advertisement, they'll remember the slogan.

What Makes a Great Slogan?

According to HowStuffWorks, a great slogan has most or all of the following characteristics:

It's memorable.

Is the slogan quickly recognizable? Will people only have to spend a second or two thinking about it? A brief, catchy few words can go a long way in advertisements, videos, posters, business cards, swag, and other places. 

It includes a key benefit.

Ever heard the marketing advice, "Sell the sizzle, not the steak"? It means sell the benefits, not the features -- which applies perfectly to slogans. A great slogan makes a company or product's benefits clear to the audience.

It differentiates the brand.

Does your light beer have the fullest flavor? Or maybe the fewest calories? What is it about your product or brand that sets it apart from competitors? (Check out our essential branding guide here.)

It imparts positive feelings about the brand.

The best taglines use words that are positive and upbeat. For example, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups' slogan, "Two great tastes that taste great together," gives the audience good feelings about Reese's, whereas a slogan like Lea & Perrins', "Steak sauce only a cow could hate," uses negative words. The former leaves a better impression on the audience.

Now that we've covered what a slogan is and what makes one great, here are examples of some of the best brand slogans of all time. (Note: We've updated this post with several ideas folks previously shared with us in the comments.)

22 Companies With Really Catchy Slogans & Taglines

1) Nike: "Just Do It"

It didn't take long for Nike's message to resonate. The brand became more than just athletic apparel -- it began to embody a state of mind. It encourages you to think that you don't have to be an athlete to be in shape or tackle an obstacle. If you want to do it, just do it. That's all it takes.

But it's unlikely Kennedy + Weiden, the agency behind this tagline, knew from the start that Nike would brand itself in this way. In fact, Nike's product used to cater almost exclusively to marathon runners, which are among the most hardcore athletes out there. The "Just Do It" campaign widened the funnel, and it's proof positive that some brands need to take their time coming up with a slogan that reflects their message and resonates with their target audience

nike-just-do-it-2.jpg

Source: brandchannel

2) Apple: "Think Different"

This slogan was first released in the Apple commercial called "Here's to the Crazy Ones, Think Different" -- a tribute to all the time-honored visionaries who challenged the status quo and changed the world. The phrase itself is a bold nod to IBM's campaign "Think IBM," which was used at the time to advertise its ThinkPad.

Soon after, the slogan "Think Different" accompanied Apple advertisements all over the place, even though Apple hadn't released any significant new products at the time. All of a sudden, people began to realize that Apple wasn't just any old computer; it was so powerful and so simple to use that it made the average computer user feel innovative and tech-savvy.

According to Forbes, Apple's stock price tripled within a year of the commercial's release. Although the slogan has been since retired, many Apple users still feel a sense of entitlement for being among those who "think different."

apple-slogan.jpg

Source: Blue Fin Group

3) Dollar Shave Club: "Shave Time. Shave Money."

The folks at Dollar Shave Club have made their way onto quite a few of our lists here on the blog, and it's safe to say that when it comes to marketing and advertising, this brand's team knows what it's doing. And its slogan -- "Shave Time. Shave Money." -- is an excellent reflection of their expertise.

This little quip cleverly incorporates two of the service's benefits: cost and convenience. It's punny, to the point, and it perfectly represents the overall tone of the brand.

Dollar-Shave-Club-Slogan.jpg

Source: TheStephenHarvey.com

4) L'Oréal: "Because You're Worth It"

Who doesn't want to feel like they're worth it? The folks at L'Oréal worked with the theory that women wear makeup in order to make themselves appear "beautiful" so they feel desirable, wanted, and worth it. The tagline isn't about the product -- it's about the image the product can get you. This message allowed L'Oréal to push its brand further than just utility so as to give the entire concept of makeup a much more powerful message.

loreal-slogan.jpg

Source: Farah Khan

5) California Milk Processor Board: "Got Milk?"

While most people are familiar with the "Got Milk?" campaign, not everyone remembers that it was launched by the California Milk Processor Board (CMPB). What's interesting about this campaign is that it was initially launched to combat the rapid increase in fast food and soft beverages: The CMPB wanted people to revert to milk as their drink of choice in order to sustain a healthier life. The campaign was meant to bring some life to a "boring" product, ad executives told TIME Magazine.

The simple words "Got Milk?" scribbled above celebrities, animals, and children with milk mustaches, which ran from 2003 until 2014 -- making this campaign one of the longest-lasting ever. The CMPB wasn't determined to make its brand known with this one -- it was determined to infiltrate the idea of drinking milk across the nation. And these two simple words sure as heck did.

got-milk-slogan.jpg

Source: Broward Palm Beach News Times

6) MasterCard: "There are some things money can't buy. For everything else, there's MasterCard."

MasterCard's two-sentence slogan was created in 1997 as a part of an award-winning advertising campaign that ran in 98 countries and in 46 languages. The very first iteration of the campaign was a TV commercial that aired in 1997: "A dad takes his son to a baseball game and pays for a hot dog and a drink, but the conversation between the two is priceless," writes Avi Dan for Forbes. "In a sense, 'Priceless' became a viral, social campaign years before there was a social media."

One key to this campaign's success? Each commercial elicits an emotional response from the audience. That first TV commercial might remind you of sports games you went to with your dad, for example. Each advertisement attempted to trigger a different memory or feeling. "You have to create a cultural phenomenon and then constantly nurture it to keep it fresh," MasterCard CMO Raja Rajamannar told Dan. And nostalgia marketing like that can be a powerful tool.

7) BMW: "Designed for Driving Pleasure"

BMW sells cars all over the world, but in North America, it was known for a long time by its slogan: "The Ultimate Driving Machine." This slogan was created in the 1970s by a relatively unknown ad agency named Ammirati & Puris and was, according to BMW's blog, directed at Baby Boomers who were "out of college, making money and ready to spend their hard earned dollars. What better way to reflect your success than on a premium automobile?"

The newer slogan, "Designed for Driving Pleasure," is intended to reinforce the message that its cars' biggest selling point is that they are performance vehicles that are thrilling to drive. That message is an emotional one, and one that consumers can buy into to pay the high price point.

bmw-designed-for-driving-pleasure-2.jpg

Source: Brandingmag

8) Tesco: "Every Little Helps"

"Every little helps" is the kind of catchy tagline that can make sense in many different contexts -- and it's flexible enough to fit in with any one of Tesco's messages. It can refer to value, quality, service, and even environmental responsibility -- which the company practices by addressing the impacts of their operations and supply chain.

It's also, as Naresh Ramchandani wrote for The Guardian, "perhaps the most ingeniously modest slogan ever written." Tesco markets itself as a brand for the people, and a flexible, modest far-reaching slogan like this one reflects that beautifully.

tesco-slogan.jpg

Source: The Drum

9) M&M: "Melts in Your Mouth, Not in Your Hands"

Here's one brand that didn't need much time before realizing its core value proposition. At the end of the day, chocolate is chocolate. How can one piece of chocolate truly stand out from another? By bringing in the convenience factor, of course. This particular example highlights the importance of finding something that makes your brand different from the others -- in this case, the hard shell that keeps chocolate from melting all over you.

10) Bounty: "The Quicker Picker Upper"

Bounty paper towels, made by Procter & Gamble, has used its catchy slogan "The Quicker Picker Upper" for almost 50 years now. If it sounds like one of those sing-songy play on words you learned as a kid, that's because it is one: The slogan uses what's called consonance -- a poetic device characterized by the repetition of the same consonant two or more times in short succession (think: "pitter patter").

Over the years, Bounty has moved away from this slogan in full, replacing "Quicker" with other adjectives, depending on the brand's current marketing campaign -- like "The Quilted Picker Upper" and "The Clean Picker Upper." At the same time, the brand's main web address went from quickerpickerupper.com to bountytowels.com. But although the brand is branching out into other campaigns, they've kept the theme of their original, catchy slogan.

Bounty_Paper_Towels_Slogan.png

Source: Bounty

11) De Beers: "A Diamond is Forever"

Diamonds aren't worth much inherently. In fact, a diamond is worth at least 50% less than you paid for it the moment you left the jewelry store. So how did they become the symbol of wealth, power, and romance they are in America today? It was all because of a brilliant, multifaceted marketing strategy designed and executed by ad agency N.W. Ayer in the early 1900s for their client, De Beers.

The four, iconic words "A Diamond is Forever" have appeared in every single De Beers advertisement since 1948, and AdAge named it the best slogan of the century in 1999. It perfectly captures the sentiment De Beers was going for: that a diamond, like your relationship, is eternal. It also helped discourage people from ever reselling their diamonds. (Mass re-selling would disrupt the market and reveal the alarmingly low intrinsic value of the stones themselves.) Brilliant.

de-beers-slogan.jpg

de-beers-slogan-old.jpg

Source: Sydney Merritt

12) Lay's: "Betcha Can't Eat Just One"

Seriously, who here has ever had just one chip? While this tagline might stand true for other snack companies, Lay's was clever to pick up on it straight away. The company tapped into our truly human incapability to ignore crispy, salty goodness when it's staring us in the face. Carbs, what a tangled web you weave.

But seriously, notice how the emphasis isn't on the taste of the product. There are plenty of other delicious chips out there. But what Lay's was able to bring forth with its tagline is that totally human, uncontrollable nature of snacking until the cows come home.

lays-slogan.jpg

Source: Amazon

13) Audi: "Vorsprung durch technik" ("Advancement Through Technology")

"Vorsprung durch technik" has been Audi's main slogan everywhere in the world since 1971 (except for the United States, where the slogan is "Truth in Engineering"). While the phrase has been translated in several ways, the online dictionary LEO translates "Vorsprung" as "advance" or "lead" as in "distance, amount by which someone is ahead in a competition." Audi roughly translates it as: "Advancement through technology."

The first-generation Audio 80 (B1 series) was launched a year after the slogan in 1972, and the new car was a brilliant reflection of that slogan with many impressive new technical features. It was throughout the 1970s that the Audi brand established itself as an innovative car manufacturer, such as with the five-cylinder engine (1976), turbocharging (1979), and the quattro four-wheel drive (1980). This is still reflective of the Audi brand today.

audi-slogan.jpg

Source: Cars and Coffee Chat

14) Dunkin' Donuts: "America Runs on Dunkin"

In April 2006, Dunkin' Donuts launched the most significant repositioning effort in the company's history by unveiling a brand new, multi-million dollar advertising campaign under the slogan "America Runs on Dunkin." The campaign revolves around Dunkin' Donuts coffee keeping busy Americans fueled while they are on the go.

"The new campaign is a fun and often quirky celebration of life, showing Americans embracing their work, their play and everything in between -- accompanied every step of the way by Dunkin' Donuts," read the official press release from the campaign's official launch.

Ten years later, what the folks at Dunkin Donuts' realized they were missing was their celebration of and honoring their actual customers. That's why, in 2016, they launched the "Keep On" campaign, which they call their modern interpretation of the ten-year slogan.

"It's the idea that we're your partner in crime, or we're like your wingman, your buddy in your daily struggle and we give you the positive energy through both food and beverage but also emotionally, we believe in you and we believe in the consumer," said Chris D'Amico, SVP and Group Creative Director at Hill Holiday.

dunkin-donuts-slogan.gif

Source: Lane Printing & Advertising

(Fun fact: Dunkin' Donuts is testing out rebranding -- and renaming itself. One store in Pasadena, California will be called, simply, Dunkin'.)

15) Meow Mix: "Tastes So Good, Cats Ask for It by Name"

Meow meow meow meow ... who remembers this catchy tune sung by cats, for cats, in Meow Mix's television commercials? The brand released a simple but telling tagline: "Tastes So Good, Cats Ask For It By Name."

This slogan plays off the fact that every time a cat meows, s/he is actually asking for Meow Mix. It was not only clever, but it also successfully planted Meow Mix as a standout brand in a cluttered market.

meow-mix-slogan.jpg

Source: Walgreens

16) McDonald's: "I'm Lovin' It"

The "I'm Lovin' It" campaign was launched way back in 2003 and still stands strong today. This is a great example of a slogan that resonates with the brand's target audience. McDonald's food might not be your healthiest choice, but being healthy isn't the benefit McDonald's is promising -- it's that you'll love the taste and the convenience.

(Fun fact: The jingle's infamous hook -- "ba da ba ba ba" -- was originally sung by Justin Timberlake.)

mcdonalds-slogan.gif

Source: McDonald's

17) The New York Times: "All the News That's Fit to Print"

This one is my personal favorite. The tagline was created in the late 1890s as a movement of opposition against other news publications printing lurid journalism. The New York Times didn't stand for sensationalism. Instead, it focused on important facts and stories that would educate its audience. It literally deemed its content all the real "news fit to print."

This helped the paper become more than just a news outlet, but a company that paved the way for credible news. The company didn't force a tagline upon people when it first was founded, but rather, it created one in a time where it was needed most.

new-york-times-slogan.jpg

Source: 4th St8 Blog

18) General Electric: "Imagination at Work"

You may remember General Electric's former slogan, "We Bring Good Things to Life," which was initiated in 1979. Although this tagline was well-known and well-received, the new slogan -- "Imagination at Work" -- shows how a company's internal culture can revolutionize how they see their own brand.

"'Imagination at Work' began as an internal theme at GE," recalled Tim McCleary, GE's manager of corporate identity. When Jeff Immelt became CEO of GE in 2001, he announced that his goal was to reconnect with GE's roots as a company defined by innovation.

This culture and theme resulted in a rebranding with the new tagline "Imagination at Work," which embodies the idea that imagination inspires the human initiative to thrive at what we do.

19) Verizon: "Can You Hear Me Now? Good."

Here's another brand that took its time coming up with something that truly resonated with its audience. This tagline was created in 2002 under the umbrella of, "We never stop working for you."

While Verizon was founded in 1983, it continued to battle against various phone companies like AT&T and T-Mobile, still two of its strongest competitors. But what makes Verizon stand out? No matter where you are, you have service. You may not have the greatest texting options, or the best cellphone options, but you will always have service.

(Fun fact: The actor behind this campaign -- Paul Marcarelli -- now appears in competing advertisements for Sprint.)

verizon-slogan.jpg

Source: MS Lumia Blog

20) State Farm: "Like a Good Neighbor, State Farm is There"

The insurance company State Farm has a number of slogans, including "Get to a better State" and "No one serves you better than State Farm." But its most famous one is the jingle "Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there," which you're likely familiar with if you live in the United States and watch television.

These words emphasize State Farm's "community-first" value proposition -- which sets it apart from the huge, bureaucratic feel of most insurance companies. And it quickly establishes a close relationship with the consumer.

Often, customers need insurance when they least expect it -- and in those situations, State Farm is responding in friendly, neighborly language.

StateFarm_Logo.png

Source: StateFarm

21) Maybelline: "Maybe she's born with it. Maybe it's Maybelline."

Can you sing this jingle in your head? Maybelline's former slogan, created in the 1990s, is one of the most famous in the world. It makes you think of glossy magazine pages featuring strong, beautiful women with long lashes staring straight down the lens. It's that confidence that Maybelline's makeup brand is all about -- specifically, the transformation into a confident woman through makeup.

Maybelline changed its slogan to "Make IT Happen" in February 2016, inspiring women to "express their beauty in their own way." Despite this change, the former slogan remains powerful and ubiquitous, especially among the many generations that grew up with it.

maybelline-slogan.jpg

Source: FunnyJunk

22) The U.S. Marine Corps: "The Few. The Proud. The Marines."

The U.S. Marine Corps has had a handful of top-notch recruiting slogans over the decades, from "First to fight" starting in World War I, to "We're looking for a few good men" from the 1980s. However, we'd argue that "The Few. The Proud. The Marines." is among the best organization slogans out there.

This slogan "underscores the high caliber of those who join and serve their country as Marines," said Maj. Gen. Richard T. Tryon, former commanding general of Marine Corps Recruiting Command. In 2007, it even earned a spot on Madison Avenue's Advertising Walk of Fame.

US_Marine_Corps_Slogan.png

Source: Marines.com

 

Editor's Note: This post was originally published in August 2012 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.

Search Has Changed. Here’s How Your Content Needs to Evolve.

When inbound marketing was on the rise in 2006, search engines were the primary way readers discovered new content. In 2017, this still holds true.

Social, video, and messaging apps now occupy a fair share of the content landscape -- but with over 3.5 billion searches per day on Google alone, search is a channel marketers still can't afford to ignore.

Over the last ten years or so, it feels like we've figured out a pretty standard content formula: publish a large volume of content to target long-tail keywords, and convert that organic traffic into leads via gated content offers. 

But this way of thinking about content has hit a wall. Search has changed, and it's time content did too. 

How Search Has Evolved

There are two big ways search has changed in recent years:

  1. Our search behavior has shifted.
  2. The technology search engines use to interpret and serve results has improved.

Let's dive into each.

How Our Search Behavior Has Changed

Back in 2006, search behavior was relatively simplistic. We typed at search engines with queries like, "Restaurants Boston," rather than talking to them conversationally.

Today, the average search query goes something like, "Where is the best place to eat near me right now?".

In fact, in May 2016 Google CEO, Sundar Pichai announced that 20% of queries on mobile and Android are voice searches.

Regardless of whether you type or use voice search, longer, more-conversational queries have become standard.

In a study conducted by Ahrefs of search volume by keyword length, they found 64% of searches are four words or more. And the rise of conversational search is only making this search pattern more prevalent.

keyword-length-distribution.pngSource: Ahrefs long-tail keyword study

This isn't because we've suddenly become comfortable talking to robots. It's largely because the quality of results that search engines serve has substantially improved, along with the quantity of content.

We've learned the playbook and have published so much content, some marketers say we've hit "content shock," and that producing content at this rate is no longer sustainable.

"While the quantity of content has dramatically increased, quality has not."

While the quantity of content has dramatically increased, quality has not. Sure, there are individual publishers and sites that create amazing content you probably consume regularly. But for the most part, a lot of content published today doesn't contribute much to the conversation.

In addition to our search behavior, the general way we use the internet to interact with sites has changed. We've shifted from desktop-based PCs, to mobile laptops, to smartphones as mini-computers in the palm of our hands.

Readers are skimming content and searching for quick answers. The emergence of messaging also means visitors are less likely to fill out a lengthy form. This has natural consequences on how we think about our content to build an audience, brand, and ultimately generate leads.

The Impact of Search Engine Updates

We're going to focus on Google-specific updates here, since between their core search, image search, and YouTube, they collectively control 90% of the search market.

When Google first popped up on the scene, the way they returned results was to essentially deconstruct queries into their fundamental pieces -- meaning individual keywords that appeared -- and serve results based on exact matches. At that time, marketers who stuffed matching keywords into content would naturally rank for the query, until Google started adjusting their algorithm.

If we go back just a few years, we can see a rich history that leads us to the search experience we have today, and we can uncover lessons that apply to our own content strategies.

Let's walk through three of the most important Google search updates and how they impact your strategy.

Penguin Algorithm Update -- Rolled out April 24, 2012.

This algorithm update was designed to penalize "webspam" and sites that were over-optimized using black-hat SEO techniques. Webspam --such as keyword stuffing and link schemes -- was penalized in this update, with 3.1% of English search queries impacted.

In the official Penguin announcement, Google described a blog post that was written about fitness and had relevant content. But within the post, there were also completely irrelevant links to payday loans and other sites. This form of random keyword stuffing is a perfect example of an SEO tactic that was likely impacted by Penguin.

The takeaway: Include relevant links and keywords in your content, but don't overdo it. While there's no magical number that's right or wrong, look at your content through the lens of a reader and make a judgment call if it's too much.

Hummingbird Algorithm Update -- Announced on August 20, 2013.

Based on what we know, this was a core algorithm update that focused on improving semantic search. As search becomes more conversational, Hummingbird is now the core algorithm interpreting these queries and translating them into meaningful results.

For example, if you search for "what's the best place to buy an iPhone 7 near my home?" a traditional algorithm before Hummingbird would have taken each individual keyword and looked for matches. With Hummingbird, Google began to look at the meaning behind these words and translate them into a better result. 

Digging into that example query above, "place" means you're looking for a store you can physically go to, instead of a website you can buy from. Hummingbird looks at the entire query and attempts to understand the meaning behind the words used to return relevant results.

The takeaway: We now search the way we talk. Focusing only on keywords means you're likely missing out on traffic from conversational search. Start thinking about clustering your content into topics, and adjusting the way you create content with pillar pages.

RankBrain Algorithm Update -- Announced on October 26, 2015.

In October 2015, Google announced that machine learning, via RankBrain, had been a part of their algorithm for months and is now the third most influential ranking factor.

It's important to understand that there are over 200 ranking signals when Google evaluates a page. When RankBrain was announced, it immediately became the third most-important factor Google uses to determine rank. 

So, what does RankBrain do? At a basic level, this algorithm helps interpret searches to find pages that might not have the exact words searched for. For example, if you search for "sneakers," Google understands that you might have meant "running shoes" and incorporates that factor into results.

Although Google begun to understand synonyms between words prior to this update, RankBrain propelled that understanding forward and truly brought a focus on topic-based content to the forefront.

The takeaway: Searchers are likely discovering your content even though they don't use exact keywords. When you combine this update with Hummingbird, the evidence is clear that we need to shift how we think about, plan, and create content.

Based on our search behavior, and the search technology updates, the playbook for content needs to change. The same formula we used for the past ten years might still generate moderate results, but it will not help us adjust to the way potential buyers are searching for our content today, or the way search works.

Wait, does this mean keywords are irrelevant?

No -- keywords are still very relevant today. Yet many marketers solely rely on keywords to inform their content strategy. With the search behavior and technology changes we've discussed, your future playbook must be based on the overall topics that match the intent of a searcher, and the specific keywords they use.

For example, if you want help companies redesign websites, then you would naturally want to appear on a search engine results page for the keyword "website redesign." In this case, "website redesign" is the overall topic. But some users might be really be searching for "redesign existing website", which is essentially the same query with different keywords. 

With this shift in search technology, search behavior, and how we interact with content, the way we make content to attract users has to change.

Here are core tenets of the new playbook to help you adjust:

The New Content Playbook

The new content playbook is comprised of three parts: overall topics that you want to be known for organized into clusters, pillar content, and subtopic content. This model can helps you establish areas of influence into overall topics, and a solid information architecture at the same time.

Topic Clusters

As Matt Barby, Global Head of Growth and SEO at HubSpot, explains:

 

"The basic premise behind building a content program in topic clusters is to enable a deeper coverage across a range of core topic areas, whilst creating an efficient information architecture in the process."

Instead of thinking about every variation of exact keywords, think about the topics you want to be known for, and the content you create will deeply cover that topic. Then, within this topic-based content, include relevant keywords. To explain this further, let's break down topic vs. keyword in the table below.

Keyword-and-Topics.png

An overall topic cluster is represented with a comprehensive piece of content at the center (called pillar content) and then surrounded by subtopic content. Visually it looks like this:

Cluster model.png

A topic cluster should be specific to the topic you want to be known for and should be short -- ideally between two and four words.

For example, at HubSpot "inbound marketing" is a topic cluster, and we have pillar content dedicated to describing the methodology. You can have numerous topic clusters across your site for as many topics as are relevant to your company. 

Pillar Content

Pillar content is central to this new strategy. It is typically comprised of a single page -- such as a website or landing page -- that offers a comprehensive view of the topic. 

If you have a lot of content, this page might already exist on your site. If not, or you want to expand into a new topic, check-out this decision tree to help decide when to create a new piece of pillar content.

final2-pillar-cluster-flowchart.jpg

There are a three key aspects of pillar content that you should consider:

  • Ungated - Pillar content should be ungated. That is, all of the content should be available for search engines to crawl and visitors to read without having to fill out a form. You can have a form on the page, but just don't hide content behind the form. 
  • Comprehensive - Pillar content should be comprehensive, which also generally means long-form. Consider all of the questions your sales, services, and support teams regularly receive concerning a specific topic and build in answers within the page content.
  • Related terms - Remember when we talked about the algorithm updates above? Be sure to mention your core topic a number of times on the page, but also include synonyms as well. That way, no matter how someone searches for that topic, they'll hopefully land on your page.

Subtopic Content

Subtopic content should be related to your pillar content. It centers around the same overall topic, but should answer longer, more niche questions. These can take the form of blog posts or site pages, and should contain a text link that points back to the pillar content. 

This hyperlink helps signal to search engines that all of this content is related. With all of your subtopic content pointing towards the pillar, it builds authority within your site.

Here's an example of what this could look like for your website:

New structure.png

This new approach helps you attract more traffic from broad topics, and still captures long-tail keyword based traffic as well. It's a solution that is better for your visitors, and allows you to provide answers they expect to find without encountering technology hurdles. 

The best content will be remarkable, comprehensive, and organized in this structure to not only help search crawlers discover their content, but naturally provide answers to topic-based queries. Content creation has evolved over the past few years, and is now hitting an inflection point where another major evolution is happening right before our eyes. 

As marketers, it's up to us to create valuable content people actually want. Content that is helpful, human, and easily found.

Ultimately you want to achieve your goals -- whether that's increasing traffic, leads, or MQLs -- but it all begins with content that matches the way people search, and the way search engines work today.

Intro to Lead Gen

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Value Creation vs. Revenue Extraction: Which Kind of Business Are You?

There’s a problem in business.

Okay, fine, there are plenty of problems in the wide world of business.

Obviously, there are tons of good things in business brought about by new innovations, advances in technology, and improvements in customer engagement.

But for all the new changes, old habits sure do die hard. Specifically, there are a lot of old ideas that still have a grip on the business world.

These ideas are preventing businesses from successfully engaging present day users.

This is why so many brands are dying out; they’re failing to actually serve today’s customers. Think about your business’s focus, where you’re putting your energy.

Is your business people-first or money-first?

Because the hard truth is that a business that puts revenue first won’t be able to stay afloat in the tumultuous waters of today’s economy. It sounds counterintuitive. Doesn’t a business exist to make money?

Yes. Obviously, you need to think about profit. But when you make that your number one goal above your customers, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

This is more than just a chicken-and-egg riddle.

This is about how and why you do business.

If you haven’t given the issue some thought, I will share a few thoughts that I think are crucial to a business’s longevity and ultimate success.

The point I’m making is simple. Businesses should work to create value not just extract profits.

Let me show you the how and why.

A Primer on Value Creation and Revenue Extraction

In terms of customer interaction, there are typically two general types of businesses: value creation and revenue extraction.

You’ve probably seen both in action before, but you might not be able to tell which one you are.

So let’s start by going over the characteristics of both types of businesses and looking at some examples.

If a business is focused on value, it will naturally put its customers above everything else. (Yes, even above revenue.)

Image Source

As the definition above notes, value creation increases your business’s worth.

Listen to that again: Value creation increases the worth of your business.

How does this happen? It happens because customers are attracted to businesses that can give them something.

The more value you provide, the more attracted your customers will be to your business.

It’s a simple (and scalable) formula, but far too few businesses actually adopt it.

Many companies still believe that a revenue extraction model is the best for doing long-term business.

What’s revenue extraction?

Revenue extraction is the idea of operating a business with the sole goal of getting money from customers. It’s the exact opposite of value creation.

This little image sums it up well:

Image Source

Where value creation is focused on serving, revenue extraction is obsessed with being served.

The type of business makes a colossal difference in how customers respond and interact.

And that’s not just theory. It’s a fact.

Quick caveat here.

Obviously, every business has to focus on profit to some degree.

Why?

It’s simple.

If a business doesn’t make a profit, it doesn’t exist. End of story.

Value creation vs. revenue extraction has more to do with motivation and priority rather than simple accounting.

As I’ll explain below, placing a higher priority on value creation will produce higher revenues.

Let’s look at an example.

UrbanBound is a company that prioritizes value extraction. They weren’t engaging their customers well enough, so they listened to customer feedback and rolled out a new marketing plan that included lots of high-value content.

The results were astounding:

Image Source

That’s what value creation can do.

Okay, that was a positive example.

Now let’s look at a negative example.

From 2000 to 2014, Steve Ballmer was the CEO of Microsoft. As CEO, Ballmer was known for focusing on sales to the exclusion of nearly everything else.

I’m smelling revenue extraction.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Ballmer made it obvious that he was focused on revenue extraction, saying, “It’s easy to glorify the products produced and the reputations won, not the money made.”

Even his exit from the company didn’t stop him from having this mindset. In early 2017, he said of Microsoft, “I want to see more profit growth.”

Sure enough, Ballmer’s attitude contributed to Microsoft’s poor performance during his tenure. The company produced several products that flopped, share price was largely stagnant, and Forbes called him the worst CEO.

ups and downs of steve ballmer

When Ballmer announced his retirement as CEO, the stock price jumped 10%, which ironically enough, added even more to Steve Ballmer’s enormous wealth. He quits, and makes $1 billion. If only we could all be so lucky.

Interestingly, while Ballmer increased Microsoft’s revenue, his reign also saw a dip in customer satisfaction.

Some point to Ballmer as the big bad reason why Apple overtook Microsoft.

Apple, who seems to focus more on the customer, steadily grew its revenue while staying at the top of the American Customer Satisfaction Index for eleven years straight.

Today, the fact that Microsoft lost customers (and that Apple gained customers) in the long term is evident by just looking at each company’s revenue over a ten-year period.

apple revenue after iPhone

Image Source

So what’s the point of all of this?

If you rely on a revenue extraction business model, you’ll turn your customers into enemies.

Your sales might look good for a bit, but that won’t last long.

If you think about human nature, this makes a lot of sense. No one wants to feel like a company just wants to empty their wallets.

Rather, customers see themselves as part of an exchange system. They contribute money to a business. In return they get some sort of value.

Image Source

When customers receive value, they have a huge incentive to come back to your business.

And in a crowded economy, if you want to stand out, you have to win your customers over with a ton of value.

The world’s most successful businesses all think this way, and it’s proven to improve your relationship with your customers.

You might be scared right now, wondering if you’re focused on value creation or revenue extraction.

Here’s how you can tell.

Where’s your focus?

Businesses who focus on value creation and those who focus on revenue extraction look very different when you look at their priorities.

And, really, that’s all this is — a priority issue.

Pivoting from revenue extraction to value creation doesn’t require firing your employees, shuffling top management, or changing your logo.

It simply means an adjustment of priority. That can start with a simple mental shift.

I’ve identified five positive priorities of a value creation business.

1. You put the most effort into creating and refining your products or services with your customers in mind, and you continually take customer feedback into account.

2. You often ask your customers for feedback and maintain a strong online presence, answering questions and addressing complaints.

Image Source

3. You publish lots of free, value-packed content. You might publish so much free content that people tell you to charge for it. Hubspot is one company that does this often:

4. Your company ethos revolves around helping your customers achieve their goals.

5. Your marketing hinges on the benefits your customers will receive from your products or services.

difference between features and benefits

Image Source

Now, let’s go over to the dark side.

Here are five signs that you’re a revenue extraction business:

1. You put the most effort into your pricing schemes and/or create your products or services with profit in mind.

2. You rarely ask your customers for feedback and don’t prioritize your online presence or interaction with customers.

3. You don’t publish free content often, and when you do, it doesn’t provide a lot of value.

4. Your company ethos revolves around maximizing your bottom line.

5. Your marketing hinges on sensational tactics (like clickbait) to get people’s attention using hype.

Of course, it’s not always black and white. In fact, your company may have characteristics from both of those lists. Most businesses tend towards one side or the other.

What about your business?

If you’ve identified your business as the revenue extraction type, don’t panic.

This doesn’t mean you’re doomed to fail, and it doesn’t mean you have an evil company.

There are several tactical ways to shift from the revenue extraction model to the value creation model.

Value begins with great content

To provide the kind of value that your customers will love, you need to make some serious changes.

In particular, you need to know what your customers want and need and then give them what they’re looking for.

Learning who your customers are is important for every business, but if you’ve found out you only think about revenue extraction, you need to kick your customer engagement strategy into overdrive.

This is where it gets good.

The best way to do this is with a killer content strategy.

elements of content strategy

Image Source

If you don’t have one, you need to make one.

But whether you’re revamping your current strategy or creating one from scratch, the steps are more or less the same.

Here’s a good framework for what a content strategy should look like:

Image Source

Let’s break that down.

Step 1: Plan your content

What kind of high-value content are you going to produce? This is a step you should spend some time on.

You don’t want to put out a ton of content if it’s just going to be watered down. Instead, focus on quality over quantity.

There’s a lack of high quality content on the web. If you’re one of the businesses in your niche that’s creating helpful content, you’ll easily stand out.

Image Source

Your content should revolve around information that will benefit your readers in some way. Sometimes that means actionable tips, and sometimes that means in-depth explanations.

Remember, providing value needs to be your core mission.

As long as you prioritize that, you’ll be on the right track.

Step 2: Audit your existing content

Even if you don’t have much content right now, you might still be able to salvage some or all of the content you do have.

If you search “content audit,” you’ll be greeted by several articles that focus on SEO.

You don’t have to worry about that too much right now, but you should determine if any content on your site is driving large amounts of traffic.

If you find something, you’ll definitely want to update it.

For all your other content, think critically about how well the content would perform. You can use sites like Buzzsumo to see what’s trending in your niche.

If you choose to keep any content, you should update it. Your existing content is probably low-value, so increasing the amount of value will be your first priority.

Step 3: Fine-tune your content process

During this step, think about how you can make a repeatable, scalable process for content creation. This needs to be a system that you can use time and time again.

First, you need to think about how you’re going to deliver the content. Will you use longform articles? Videos? Infographics?

Second, you need to create an editorial calendar that will map out what you publish and how often you publish it.

Image Source

Basically, you should have a smooth process in place that covers all the bases.

This will take some time to fully develop, so expect to make frequent changes.

Step 4: Set up a performance tracking system

To maintain a powerful content strategy, you need to know what’s working and what’s not.

In terms of content, your success or failure will be measured by how well your content performs.

Performance is generally measured using a few key metrics: views, time on page, and conversion actions (like email signups or even sales). These are also called Key Performance Indicators or KPIs.

You can see all of these metrics in Google Analytics. Once you get familiar with the platform, you’ll be able to track each metric individually to put your strategy under the microscope.

Step 5: Share your content

This is the “marketing” part of “content marketing.” If you’re serious about your content, you want to get it in front of as many people as possible.

Social media plays a big role in this. You’ll want to have a strong presence on the big social networks and share your content on them, optimizing the content for each site.

If you optimize well enough, your content will get lots of views and shares, and your traffic will grow.

One more thing: Having a social sharing schedule will let you make the most of your content.

But none of these steps matter in the least if you’re not delivering value.

That’s where it all starts.

Conclusion

To put it simply, the revenue extraction business model is outdated.

Customers have more choices than at any point in history.

If you don’t like one coffee shop or grocery store, you can easily switch to one of the countless others.

In most situations, every customer has the ability to decide where they want to spend their money.

You have to convince them that your company is worth spending money on.

That’s why so many businesses are utilizing high-value content strategies. People respond to value, and they want to give back to businesses who give them value first.

How are you going to provide that kind of serious value to your customers?

About the Author: Daniel Threlfall is an Internet entrepreneur and content marketing strategist. As a writer and marketing strategist, Daniel has helped brands including Merck, Fiji Water, Little Tikes, and MGA Entertainment. Daniel is co-founding Your Success Rocket, a resource for Internet entrepreneurs. He and his wife Keren have four children, and occasionally enjoy adventures in remote corners of the globe (kids included). You can follow Daniel on Twitter or see pictures of his adventures on Instagram.