Use This Simple (& Fun) Tool to Design Your Content Marketing Message Architecture

tool-design-content-marketing-message-architecture

Editor’s note: You may have missed this article when CMI published it last year. We’re sharing it now, with minor edits, because a solid message architecture makes all the difference when you’re planning your content.

What is your brand’s most distinctive trait?

What’s the most important thing your company does?

What’s the main reason people should do business with you?

Do you know? Does everyone in your company know? Do your organization’s blog posts, podcasts, videos, emails, and other communications convey the answers to these questions in one way or another day after day?

Consistency like that, believe it or not, is achievable. Maybe you think that your company is too big, too loosely structured, or too (fill in the blank). Don’t throw up your hands. Tools exist that can help you bring your organization’s messaging into alignment. One such tool favored by many content strategists – a surprisingly simple but powerful tool – is the message architecture.

Why should you read on?

If you don’t have a message architecture in place, you’re missing out on something of value. Creating content without a message architecture is like building a house without a floor plan. Katie Del Angel shared with me other metaphors:

A clearly articulated message architecture is my best friend. It’s a North Star that everyone on a project (internal and external) can work toward.

Margot Bloomstein says, “Content strategy is what makes content marketing effective,” and “driving that strategy is the message architecture.”


#Contentmarketing relies on #contentstrategy, which relies on message architecture via @mbloomstein.
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Kristina Halvorson puts it this way: Message architecture is “where your content really begins.”


Where does content begin? With a message architecture, says @halvorson via @marciarjohnston.
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What is a message architecture?

A message architecture, sometimes called a messaging architecture or messaging framework, is a small set of words – terms, phrases, or statements – arranged hierarchically to convey an organization’s messaging priorities, its communication goals. It helps people in all departments deliver consistent messages in all types of content.

It’s called an architecture because it acts as “scaffolding for your content, supporting and shaping the content you actually produce,” Erin Kissane says in her book, The Elements of Content Strategy. When marketers say “messages” or “messaging,” they aren’t talking about customer-facing content; they’re talking about the general impression they want customers to take away from the content.

Messaging is not copy; it’s subtext.

So, while a message architecture consists of words, it doesn’t tell content creators what words to use. It tells them what messages their words (and images, etc.) should convey and the order of importance of those messages.

While a message architecture should align with the corporate vision, mission, and brand values, it’s not the same as any of those things. It has three distinguishing qualities (as noted in Margot’s book, Content Strategy at Work):

  • It conveys levels of priority.
  • It’s actionable (in that it directly informs content decisions).
  • It’s specific to communication.

What does a message architecture look like?

Message architectures can take various forms. Margot’s takes the form of a set of “prioritized brand attributes that stem from a shared vocabulary.” Her typical message architecture is “a concise outline of … attributes, each with sub-bullets that clarify meaning and add color.”

For example, her interpretation of Apple’s message architecture looks something like this:

Message-architecture-company-Apple

Adapted from Margot Bloomstein’s presentation Be a Greedy Bastard: Use Content Strategy to Get What You Want, Slide 26

This example resembles a description of a corporate voice. Unlike most voice descriptions, though, this list is hierarchical – the elements appear in order of importance. Here, the top item in the hierarchy – “confident but approachable” – takes priority. This type of list tells content creators which attributes to emphasize when brainstorming blog topics, choosing words, sketching images, creating videos, crafting emails … you name it.

Margot gives a similarly structured example for a “stately financial institution”:

Message-architecture-Financial-institution

Adapted from Margot Bloomstein, Term of the Week: Message Architecture

This example does more than the previous one. It conveys not only characteristics but also purpose. It’s a hybrid, telling us not just what this institution is like (respected, relevant, trusted – elements of voice, essentially) but also what it does: It focuses on large-cap funds and serves an exclusive class of investors.

Message architectures can go all the way in this direction, becoming architectures not of attributes but of statements – of messages, in fact. This approach to message architecture would complement a definition of voice rather than double as one. Kristina Halvorson gives one such example:

Message-architecture-content-strategy-consultancy

Adapted from Kristina Halvorson, Message and Medium: Better Content by Design

If you used a two-tier architecture like this, you might want to further prioritize by putting secondary messages in order of importance. As Margot suggested to me in an email, prioritizing the secondary messages would make the architecture even more useful for resolving “conflicts of vision.”

Who wouldn’t love a tool that does that?

Margot and Kristina’s approaches aren’t the only ones out there. For example, in her book, The Content Strategy Toolkit, Meghan Casey describes what she calls a messaging framework, which builds on a core content strategy statement. Her messaging framework has three parts:

  • First impression: What you want people to feel when they first encounter any piece of your content
  • Value statement: What you want people to feel after spending a few minutes with any piece of your content because of what they now understand about your company
  • Proof: How any piece of your content demonstrates that your company provides just what people need

Which form of message architecture should you choose? Here’s how Meghan answers that question in her book:

“It really doesn’t matter, as long as you adhere to the following:

  • Make sure everyone who needs it has it.
  • Actually use it to make decisions about content.
  • Keep in mind that the messages are for you and the people in your organization who work on content.”

I especially like that middle bullet: Whichever form of message architecture you pick, it has to be one that your team will use.


Whichever form of message architecture you pick, it has to be one your team will use, says @meghscase.
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What’s the value of a message architecture?

A message architecture’s value lies in its ability to clarify, for every content creator, the organization’s most important messages.

A message architecture scales beautifully, too, coming in as handy for a team of three as for a team of 3,000. As shown in the following two illustrations, a single message architecture can apply across all departments and all audiences.

Without-message-architecture-inconsistent-communication

With-message-architecture-consistent-communication

Adapted from Hilary Marsh, Managing the Politics of Content, Slides 37 and 38.

When an organization has no message architecture, its content teams working in departmental silos may create “a semi-schizophrenic brand experience” (to borrow a phrase from an email from Intel’s K. Scott Rosenberg). With a message architecture, organizations have a better chance of communicating consistently.


#Content teams working in departmental silos may create “a semi-schizophrenic brand experience,” says @kscottr.
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How can my organization create a message architecture?

There’s no right process for creating a message architecture. Since I’ve heard Margot talk through the card-sorting exercise she uses with her clients, I’ll describe that exercise here to give you one idea to try. I trust that you’ll find it worthwhile. Take it from Elizabeth McGuane, who says,

All in all, it was an incredibly useful exercise. It really gives clarity to something which can often be … fuzzy and subjective, and it gets [participants] involved – they loved it!

Here’s how the folks at Asana describe their experience with this type of exercise:

We were convinced. There was energy around our brand like never before.

Join the fun. Follow these seven steps.

1. Pick a leader.

Someone needs to lead the exercise. You may want to hire a consultant to facilitate. Alternatively, someone in-house could take the role. The leader must be capable of keeping participants aligned on the exercise’s purpose, which is not to select a handful of words but to reach agreement on the brand’s most important messages.

2. Prepare a set of adjective cards.

If your organization already settled on a set of adjectives that describe its corporate voice, you may want to simply write those adjectives on cards, have your stakeholders prioritize them, and skip to Step 5.

If your organization hasn’t defined its voice, or if you want to update your voice definition, follow all these steps. You’ll end up defining your corporate voice and prioritizing its elements to boot.

Create a set of cards, each with one adjective on it (a descriptive word or phrase) that might describe a brand – any brand: “innovative,” “traditional,” “edgy,” etc. The cards can be as simple as handwritten slips of paper. Margot’s card deck includes about 100 adjectives. Her set of adjectives – which you can also find on Page 30 of Content Strategy at Work – comprises terms she has heard across a range of companies and industries, including these types:

  • Paired terms (“strategic” and “tactical”)
  • Relative opposites (“traditional” and “modern”)
  • Terms on a continuum (“assertive” and “aggressive”)

Adjective-cards

Photo courtesy of Margot Bloomstein

Here are some tips on selecting your adjectives. Unless otherwise noted, these tips come from this conversation and this conversation in the Content Strategy Google group.

  • “Start with what you hear a lot, and a thesaurus. In general, I include a lot of terms that could be opposites (e.g., traditional and modern, strategic and tactical) as well as terms that represent shades of nuance on the same continuum (e.g., leading edge, cutting edge, bleeding edge). See Krista Stevens’ blog post for more details.” (Margot)
  • Include words that the stakeholders have “already used in the past to describe their brand.” Also “cannibalize” your tone of voice and writing guidelines, and throw in “terms that have come up in user testing, design concepts, anything at all.” (Elizabeth McGuane)
  • “We’ve been taking commonly used words like ‘funny,’ and trying to break them down further into more specific terms, like ‘cheeky,’ ‘witty,’ ‘tongue-in-cheek,’ for example.” (Aimee Cornell)
  • If you use Margot’s terms, “pre-cull” those you think are most relevant and conducive to discussion in your group. (Sadia Latifi)
  • Exclude terms that might be “distracting” or “potentially inflammatory” for that group. (Margot, Content Strategy at Work)
  • Include terms that are “intentionally ambiguous to invite discourse.” (Margot, Content Strategy at Work)

3. Gather stakeholders in a room.

An effective message architecture depends on a shared vocabulary grounded in conversation; no one can go off and create message architecture alone. Invite everyone who needs to be involved in the decisions and everyone whose support will be needed.

4. Sort the cards.

Spread your cards on a table big enough that everyone can stand on the same side. Spend 45 to 60 minutes sorting the cards.

Separate the cards into three groups:

  • Who we are
  • Who we’re not
  • Who we’d like to be

Sort-cards

Photo courtesy of Margot Bloomstein

As you sort, encourage conversation, even friendly arguing. People need to “unpack their communication goals and dig into the buzzwords.” Explore why certain adjectives apply or don’t. Dig deep and “debate the nuances of each word.” Discuss what the adjectives mean in your corporate culture. (This is where the “shared vocabulary” comes in.)

Let me say all that in a different way: Treat the adjectives as springboards for conversation. The value of the terms on the cards doesn’t come from their inherent meaning; it comes from what the participants say about them. Write down what people say as they move the cards around. “The pauses, hesitation, and snap decisions are all worth noting,” Margot writes in Content Strategy at Work.

Eventually, your message architecture must do more than transcribe the cards; it must capture the spirit of the conversation.

Say the group chooses “hip.” That choice in itself doesn’t tell you much. But say you overhear someone saying this about the term: “Everyone thinks we’re old and can’t react as quickly as the competition” (Content Strategy at Work). Now there’s an insight that could give content creators some guidance! You may eventually want to capture the gist of that comment – not just the adjective – in your message architecture.

When the cards are sorted into the three groups, turn your focus to the future group (who we’d like to be).

If you need multiple message architectures – maybe one for customer-facing content and another for internal communication – sort the future cards into natural groupings. For example, one group of terms might describe the way participants want potential customers to think about the company; another group of terms might describe the ideal corporate culture.

Finally, place the future cards – within their groups if you have more than one group – in priority order. (This is where the “architecture” comes in.) Why? Companies can’t communicate everything at once. Content creators need to know where to focus.

5. Document your message architecture.

Draft your message architecture. Keep it tight. (The three examples above use fewer than 60 words each.) Capture not just the adjectives people chose during the exercise but also the spirit of the ongoing conversation. As Margot says, “Words are valuable, but meaningless without context and priority.”


Words are valuable, but meaningless without context & priority, says @mbloomstein via @marciarjohnston.
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As you shape your message architecture, keep your mind open. A bulleted list may suffice, but you may want to go further. Experiment. Turn your words into a picture. Carve them in clay. Let the message architecture itself be your guide. Is “whimsical” your company’s top attribute? Stencil your message architecture’s elements on helium balloons, letting the most important one literally float to the top.

Send your message architecture to stakeholders for review. Revise it until people agree that you have your North Star. (Star-shaped balloons, anyone?)

6. Distribute your message architecture.

Share the message architecture with all who create and maintain your company’s content.

7. Keep communicating.

Creating a message architecture doesn’t ensure that people will use it. Follow up to keep the team in sync – a task that Carrie Hane Dennison calls strategic nagging. Even the most gung-ho professionals need reminders of what they’re doing and why.

For more on this card-sorting exercise, see these two books:

Conclusion

“I start nearly every engagement by helping my clients develop a message architecture,” Margot shared with me. “It’s a simple deliverable that serves as the foundation for all our subsequent tactical decisions and activities.”

Message architecture. Simple. Foundational. Useful. And – if approached with an open spirit – fun. What more can we ask of any tool? Give this one a try. Let us know how it works for you.

Sign up for our weekly Content Strategy for Marketers e-newsletter, which features exclusive stories and insights from CMI Chief Content Adviser Robert Rose. If you’re like many other marketers we meet, you’ll come to look forward to reading his thoughts every Saturday.

Visit our Teams and Process hub to get more insights and tools that will help you work more effectively as a team.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

The post Use This Simple (& Fun) Tool to Design Your Content Marketing Message Architecture appeared first on Content Marketing Institute.

What’s the New Social Media Skill Set?

Hire the wrong social media manager, and your business might be in trouble. Learn the most important traits and skills to look for when hiring a social media manager.

Takeaways

  • The importance of a top-notch social media manager is growing as social’s role in marketing continues to expand.
  • A great social media manager is naturally curious, adaptable, and teachable.
  • Great social media managers should also have experience with customer service, multimedia production, and analytics.

Christin: Get this hire wrong, and your business might be in trouble. Hi, I’m Christin Kardos, and I’m the Community Manager at Convince & Convert, and today I wanted to talk about some of the really important traits and skills for a good social media manager.

Recently, Jay Baer wrote a blog post that talked about how he thinks that agencies are about to experience a big boom due to the sheer number and variety of skills that a good social media manager might have today. The digital landscape is changing, along with customers’ consumption preferences. To be successful, businesses and their social media reps will have to stay in lockstep with these changes and continue to bring value to their customers and their leads. The days where lobbing out tweets and posts of your own content, magically resulting in sales, those are over. You also have to know what to do in the event something goes wrong. And you can’t do any of this if you don’t have the right philosophy and the right social media professional, or professionals, representing you.

If you’re a business owner or a decision maker, and you’re staffing for social media management, you’re going to need to carefully recruit and vet candidates for certain traits and skills that will help your business. Buffer has a recent post outlining what some of these are, and I want to talk through them just a little bit today.

Number one, you preferably want to hire someone who’s naturally curious. He or she needs to be willing to ask, “Why?” or, “What now?” or, “How can we help?” when dealing with customers or looking for ways to build your brand. Second, teachability and adaptability are also very key. The pace of content and the rate at which new platforms and technologies are emerging has been never been faster. So ultimately, it doesn’t even matter how much you know today or how great you are on a social platform. It’s far more important to be able to learn, to successfully navigate new platforms, new tools, as they become relevant to your customer.

So obviously, curiosity and teachability and adaptability are important, but those are more inherent traits. They’re not really skills. So the third thing that I would say is really important is to look to hire someone who has some skill with multimedia. Now we’re getting into skills that are actually learned and honed over time, but this one is important. Your social media manager is really going to have to know how to work with images, graphics, multimedia, to actually convey your message in different ways on different platforms. He or she might need to be able to make a video like this one. There are a lot of tools and resources out there that make this much easier for us today than it would have been in the past, but there’s still an amount of skill required, involved just to use those tools.

The fourth thing I would look for is skill and experience in customer service because that is utterly important to your social media efforts. Social media is much more for advocacy and awareness than it is for sales. So you need someone who really knows how to take care of your customer, someone who knows how to not only answer questions, but to ask questions and to read into and dig into things that are not said.

And finally, my number five top skill for a good social media manager today is analytics. A social media manager really needs to know far beyond just how to measure likes and clicks and that sort of thing, but to really get into the data and to understand what things mean and how to make recommendations based off of what they’re seeing in those numbers.

If you’re a business owner or a decision maker, you really should try to recruit and vet your candidates for social media management using these traits and these skills. They’ll be really important for your business. And if you’re a social media manager, or you’re aspiring to be one, then you might want to lean in to your existing curiosity and adaptability sides, and then also look at ways to strengthen your muscles with things like graphics and video. Also look for opportunities to go above and beyond with your current customers and think about your own experience as a customer, and keep those ideas and what was great and what was terrible really close for future reference. And if you’re not quite qualified to be hired for these things yet, don’t be afraid to volunteer. That’s actually how I got started.

So with that, let me ask a question: If you could only ask a candidate for a social media manager position one question, what would that be? Or if you are the candidate, what would be the one question you would ask a potential employer? Let me know your questions in the comments, and we will see you next week.

Why Your Marketing Personalization Isn’t Good Enough Yet

Why Your Marketing Personalization Isn't Good Enough Yet

Adaptive content. Omni-channel marketing. People-first marketing. Personalized marketing. Personalization. Whatever you want to label it, they all speak to a similar concept: the idea that data and technology can be used to deliver a more tailored experience for consumers, and in turn, a more-effective one, regardless of what device they are on.

Organizations on all sides of the advertising landscape are investing in personalization tools. Ad tech vendors, agencies, publishers, ad networks, and exchanges are readjusting their value proposition to emphasize their ability to help advertisers use this technology to reach their customers more effectively.

For example, Atlas is now a people-based marketing solution powered by Facebook. Five years ago, the word “people” was not in its messaging. Atlas was a “world-class media measurement platform, delivering billions of impressions every day.” (This information was retrieved from the Wayback Machine Archive.) This evolution reflects that of the industry. We now realize technology’s value isn’t measurement; measurement is the conduit into understanding.

Tailoring messages by channels, understanding customer behavior over time, and matching customers across multiple devices are now top priorities for the vast majority of marketers (76 percent, 75 percent and 74 percent, respectively), according eMarketer’s recent survey, “Customer Acquisition in the U.S.: A focus on Data, Audience and Lifetime Value,” October 2016. But doing so isn’t easy. The same eMarketer research found that less than 15 percent of respondents feel their organization is capable of delivering on any of the aforementioned priorities. The technology is there. So are the intentions. What is the holdup?

While advertisers are sold on personalized marketing’s value, many haven’t quite figured out what it means in practice. They have invested in tools for collecting data about their audience. They know how to find the right person, and they can update their creative appropriately, but managing all of these moving parts and creating and implementing an overarching strategy is challenging.

Brands can’t wait much longer. If they don’t start speaking to customers like real people, they will lose out to competitors who do.

Even unlikely brands like Hunt’s get this. The tomato brand has recently been using its data management platform (DMP), Krux, to target environmentally conscious consumers with messages focused on Hunt’s sustainable practices. The content shows how Hunt’s offers organic tomato products, and how it uses a natural non-chemical process to peel its tomatoes.

Crystal Light is also ahead of the curve when it comes to personalization. The brand uses its first party data to target website visitors who are looking at weight loss or health tips—they use personalized ads with themes like “zero calories.” Using third-party data, the brand can also learn other interests, like fashion. They can use this data for a Crystal Light message like “add a pop of color”—linking the act of using the drink mix to a fun concept in fashion.


People-first marketing is about communicating with audiences more like their peers do.
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Millennials, a Ticking Clock

For brands marketing to millennials and building trust is paramount. Most millennials do not trust traditional advertising. They trust their peers and friends more than brands, corporations, and even experts, thus the popularity of user-generated content and influencer marketing.

If you are not marketing to millennials, you will be soon. They are the next big consumer force. Your marketing communication has to sound less like a corporation and more like a trusted friend. That means fewer sweeping generalizations and more personalized messaging based on insights. People-first marketing is about communicating with audiences more like the way their peers do. This helps you earn their attention and foster trust.

Obviously, millennials aren’t all the same, but many brands’ personalized marketing does not reflect that. One of the biggest mistakes advertisers make is failing to segment the generation further. (There are six, seven, or maybe 12 types of millennials.) If your so-called millennial messaging doesn’t actually resonate with the recipient, it won’t help you build trust, and it is not really personalized.

It Is Time to Bridge the Tech Implementation Gap

The gap between companies’ intentions and their actual execution comes down to two things—either they haven’t adopted the needed technology or they haven’t been able to successfully implement it. Personalization technology, for all of its automation, is not simply plug-and-play! It is tempting to think that your job ends after you’ve made the decision to invest in technology, but it takes attention to use it effectively and to determine how to make it fit with existing processes.

Brands need to consider the importance and long-term impact of personalization, evaluate it against other projects, and prioritize appropriately. They need to take the time to activate their investment, understanding that such a shift takes time, focus, and resources.

Remember, audience targeting is different than just testing ad images and font colors. That is basic conversion rate optimization. Putting your audience first means really understanding them and updating your content to reflect that. Analysis paralysis is certainly contributing to the implementation lag. It is challenging to figure out what observations matter and what traits should actually impact your targeting and creative strategies. Audience personalization should not happen in a vacuum. Use all the information at your disposal, including Google Analytics, Facebook Insights, email lists, past marketing campaigns—everything you have learned about your audience.

All this data makes it hard to see the forest. It can also be challenging to figure out who within your organization should be leading the way. You can’t hand your creative team raw data and ask them to run with it. You have a media team, analysts, and tech experts working with your DMP, but are they turning the data into something that can be used upstream? Workflow issues are also contributing to the holdup. All areas of your company need to get on the same page and speak the same language.

For the uninitiated, there’s a fairly easy way to get started with message personalization. Run a split test with different values that your company provides. For example, a hotel brand might have two stories to tell: one that focuses on value for travelers on a budget, and another that is about the luxury and comfort of their accommodations. By split testing an email or ad creative to a broad audience with both messages, they can start to see where these messages resonate, and use the results to further personalize messages to those same groups in the future.

The industry has agreed on the value of personalization and invested in the technology needed to make it happen. The potential ROI is clear. Now it is about focus and embracing your tech stack, as well as your ability to do something with the information you’ve gathered. It is up to the advertiser to activate the data and targeting tools it has invested in. People-first marketing means using technology to think like a human, which can be surprisingly challenging but is crucial to a brand’s continued marketing success.

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How to Become a Content Marketing Hero

How to Become a Content Marketing Hero

I’ve been creating content marketing strategies for clients for a long time, and optimizing content strategy for Convince & Convert for even longer.

I’ve written a whole book about it (Youtility), plus dozens—maybe hundreds—of blog posts on this site.

But in all that time, I’ve never really sat down and taught other people how to create a content marketing strategy that really and truly works.

Until now.

I’m sure you’ll agree that content marketing is harder than ever. That doesn’t mean you can’t succeed with content, but it DOES mean you have to change your approach.

  • You may struggle with creating enough content consistently.
  • You may not be entirely happy with how you’re measuring your content.
  • You may have noticed that your content success is declining on a per-execution basis.

These are all very, very common and are exactly the kind of problems my team and I solve for clients.

Now I want us to solve them together.

On Monday, I conducted a free Webinar called How to Create a Winning Content Marketing Strategy, in 7 Steps.

Slides and recording are below. I think you’ll learn a lot, as this is the same process we use to create content strategy for amazing brands.

Watch the recording.

Let’s Make You a Content Marketing Hero

Why am I finally teaching our system? Two reasons.

First, I am launching a comprehensive, online course: The Content Marketing Strategy Master Class. This is a 10-week program, taught by me, with weekly lessons, Q&A, online community, and a bunch of special stuff like 12-month free access to future updates to the course.

I’m only taking 100 students in this program, to keep it intimate and to provide as much help as possible to each person.

If you’re interested in the course, please go here to learn more and reserve one of the remaining spots >>

Second, we are at an inflection point with content marketing. The days of just creating stuff and succeeding because there were unfilled gaps in the information market are OVER. Your competitors are putting just as much effort into content marketing as you are. And it’s only going to get tougher.

I want you to become a content marketing hero. I want you to be the best at it in your industry. I want you to be promoted. I want your boss to buy your drinks. I want all of that for you, so I’m going to show you how I make that happen for my clients.

Here’s how it works:

  • 10-week program (starts May 15).
  • 7 step framework for content marketing strategy.
  • In the final week, we write your content marketing strategic narrative together (a one- to two-page summary of the whole thing, perfect to give your boss).
  • 2 break weeks with no new content released.
  • Each week, we release approximately 60 minutes of new training on Monday.
  • Each week, we have a live Q&A call with all students (usually on Friday).
  • During the week, all students have access to a private, online community to ask questions of me and my team, and of each other.
  • You get access to all the course materials and the community for a whole year.
  • Signed copy of my book, Youtility.
  • Everyone who enrolls by Friday at 5 p.m. gets a special ebook, “11 Required Elements to Succeed with Youtube in 2017”.

This is world-class training created by people who are trusted by the biggest names in business to do this kind of work.

I hope you see how the Content Marketing Master Class can make an enormous difference in your company, and maybe in your career.

What’s the cost of not being a part of it? Content success is just going to get more difficult and elusive next month, next quarter, and next year.

If you’re ready to roll, please visit this link right now. I’m not kidding about 100 students only.

34+ Link-Building Tips, Tools, and Examples for SEO and Website Traffic

link-building-tips-tools-examples-seo-website-traffic

If you care about content marketing and SEO, you can’t ignore link building.

Google executives acknowledge that backlinks are among top three ranking factors along with content and RankBrain (Google’s artificial intelligence technology that handles search queries).


Backlinks are among top 3 ranking factors along with content and RankBrain, says @mikeonlinecoach. #SEO
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When you get more links, your search engine rankings can improve and website traffic will increase to help you with branding, leads, and sales.

However, it also involves considerable time, patience, and potential disappointments. Like any marketing, it’s trial and error.

For instance, let’s say you create an infographic or video, and ask people to link to it. Even if the content is exceptional, you may be rejected or ignored.

To help, use some of these 34-plus link building tips, tools, and examples to help your business reach the right audiences:

1.Know your talent

Decide early on who is going to do the work. Do you have the expertise? Who can support you internally? Do you need to hire an outside resource? A blend may be best.

2. Prioritize effectively

Link-building strategies often involve concurrent tactics and tasks. Weigh your options and my suggestions. Determine what’s worth your time. Every tactic may not be for you.

3. Track your keyword rankings

Create a baseline of some strategic keywords so you can chart how they improve in light of your link-building efforts. Be sure to add to the list based on new content you promote. You can’t begin to track everything so monitor the most relevant keyword phrases.

4. Use link-building tools

The following link-building tools help you find, sort, and manage potential link sources, including influencer and competitor research. For each link, learn about authority and trust scores that are influenced by the type, quality, and number of backlinks. You may even discover that you’re failing to link well among the websites that your company owns. Here are some tools to consider:

  • Ahrefs – here is an example of a report (other tools also offer many data options and types of reports)

ahrefs

5. Research competitors

I call them “me-too” links. You can find directories, blogs, newsletters, media, and other websites that may be open to linking to your website. Clearly, many will be based on relationships those media have cultivated. But you can usually find some gems and reach out to the same publishers.

6. Clean up your inbound links

One of the worst things about online marketing is that you can be penalized even when you’re not at fault. Unfortunately, some disreputable, spammy, irrelevant, waste-of-digital-space websites may link to you even if you don’t want the link.

You get the “honor” of tapping into your limited time to deal with them. And you can use disavow tools with Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster tools – and hope for the best. Basically, you let search engines know which websites you despise. Along the way, you’re expected to beg the websites to stop linking to you (if they will listen). You simply trust that Google will agree that they’re awful links and you didn’t request them.

You can also minimize or avoid the Google Penguin penalty for spammy backlinks by avoiding as many as possible in the first place. Use the tools to size up link prospects, including authority scores.


Minimize Google penalty for spammy backlinks by avoiding them in the first place, says @mikeonelinecoach.
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7. Buy websites and domains (but be careful)

If you find the right website (with content) or domain name that used to be tied to content, you can inherit backlinks. But you’ll need to size up those backlinks before pointing the websites and/or domain names to yours. Assess the actual links to ensure that they seem to be legitimate (look at the authority scores, number of links, etc.)

8. Create a study

Survey managers and top executives for their opinions on best practices, trends, and industry forecasts. Create a landing page with an executive summary. You’ll feel some pressure to add a response form so you can get key data from prospects. Resist it. Why not just make the results available? Leverage the free resource for awareness and link building.

Go with that executive summary. Beginning with the initial landing page, divide the study into multiple pages on your website so you can get some added SEO value. Reference the full PDF on every page. Block search engines from indexing the PDF so they can focus on crawling each of the pages.

Although it doesn’t cover multiple pages, I like how Spiceworks presents its study, STATE OF IT: The annual report on IT budgets and tech trends. It’s well designed and full of data worth sharing.

State-of-it-annual report

9. Publish examples of great content

If you take the time to make useful collections, they can attract links. Here are a couple that caught my attention:

10. Roll out how-to guides

Educational guides won’t always attract many links. It depends on the topic and the quality of your content. If you develop How to Choose a Metallurgy Company, it may not prompt marketers to drop everything and dish out link love. But there is hope – if you ask (more on that later).


Educational guides won’t always attract many links, says @mikeonlinecoach. #SEO
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I like how Gorilla 76 offers The Hardworking Inbound Marketing Guide for B2B Industrial Companies. The agency wraps it with a separate, free resource: Industrial Marketing: The Definitive Guide.

Content Marketing Institute routinely offers free guides like the Content Marketing Survival Guide: How to Navigate the Wilds of Social Media. You don’t need to share your name or email.

cmi-social-media-survival-guide-example

11. Go natural

Your best bet is to go the natural route, allowing countless websites to link to yours because of your great content. Although they won’t always be high-profile places, search engines will value the diverse sources and the diverse ways they link (anchor text will vary).

Other websites frequently reference CMI content, such as The Next Web’s 5 Ways to Skyrocket Your Content Marketing in 2017 (it links to CMI’s Skyscraper Content the Right Way: How to Truly Help Your Readers).

Skyscraper-content

TODAY gave Briggs & Stratton a link for supporting a good cause: Raising Men Lawncare Service.

TODAY-Briggs-&-Stratton-link

12. Support charities

It’s an easy way to build links. You might question the value of the links if they’re not relevant to your industry. But search engines look at the number and quality of links, not only relevancy.

Burlington is a major sponsor of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Support-charities-Burlington

13. Distribute news releases

Years ago, search engines frowned when companies loaded news release text with backlinks. But you shouldn’t avoid using news releases to get the word out about your latest research or products. A news release service may include the “no follow” tag, which basically means your website won’t benefit from the website’s authority. You’ll still get traffic. And who knows? Others may see the news release and link directly to your website.

14. Write testimonials

If you need a product or service for your business, offer some praise for their websites (if you notice they offer backlinks to customers).

15. Nurture relationships with influencers

It’s a long-term tactic, but it can pay off. If you support the influential people in your industry, they will likely link to your content. Start by promoting their content and commenting on it.

16. Leverage social media

It may seem obvious, but some companies fall short with their efforts because they didn’t try hard enough. On Twitter, you can promote good content – or portions of it – several times. It’s not overkill either, not when you’ve made the effort to share other publishers’ content and engage with followers (far more often than you call attention to content you create). Tweet about portions of your latest survey.

17. Create useful things

Develop online tools, industry-specific calculators, and other resources. They can range from Gardener’s Supply Company Soil Calculator to Plotly, which marketers use for charts and presentations.

Soil-calculator

18. Consider guest blogging

It still works if you write something original for an online publication. You can get a link to your website in the article and your bio. Check out The Ultimate Guide to Guest Blogging from Kissmetrics for tips, including ways to find blogs that want guest contributors.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:
How Guest Blogging Solved My SEO Problem

19. Leverage corporate leadership

Identify leaders in your company who have name recognition. Get all sorts of links when they’re listed as conference speakers or featured as regular contributors to online magazines and blogs. Make a list of their key contacts and connections.

20. Research websites with edu domain extensions

Over the years, marketers have suggested that edu-extension links have extra value. Maybe it’s because of the eligibility requirements (a .edu domain name isn’t available to everyone). Even if search engines don’t view them differently, they’re often still worth targeting because of their age and authority. Look for individual faculty, school, or program pages that link to companies and resources. Get more insights from How to Find and Build Powerful EDU Backlinks.


Seek links from .edu domains because of their age and authority, says @mikeonlinecoach. #SEO
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21. Join business groups

Whether it’s a local chamber or a national association, you can get links to your business.

22. Be active in local communities

From churches to civic organizations, you have ample opportunities to support people and places that may link to your website.

23. Promote links through email

Yes, you want people to open the email and click the links. But if they like the content, they may highlight it on their websites as well.

24. Look for general industry and niche directories

Evaluate them by looking at their authority score and see whether they feature competitors. Pay attention to the number of listings. For example, manufacturers may want to consider the IQS Directory from Industrial Quick Search.

IQS-Directory

The popular DMOZ directory recently closed, but you can use a static version to research potential backlinks. Get some great tips from How to Find Niche Directories to Boost Your SEO.

25. Include ego bait

You can mention one or more experts in your content and promote it socially. Will they link to your content just because you cited insights? Maybe. But if you don’t have a relationship, they may not link back even if they come across it or if you contact them directly.

26. Develop expert roundups

Your relationship odds could be enhanced if you ask experts to contribute to an article – like when they each provide some tools and best practices.

27. Publish a Q&A

You might arrange an interview with an industry expert and include his or her perspectives on a key topic. Maybe the expert will link back because you reached out, respected the ideas, and took the time to develop a piece.

28. Claim broken links

Hunt down broken links on websites and reach out to website owners and managers. Point out a link to a page that’s missing or a website that shut down. Offer your content as a substitute. Broken Link Building: How to Build Quality Backlinks by Fixing the Web and Broken Link Building Made Easy both offer numerous tips about this tactic.

29. Get more inbound links from existing sources

Who is linking to you that could be linking in more than one place? It never hurts to have multiple links from one source. You just don’t want to “game” search engines by getting a ton of links from one website in most situations. In other words, don’t seek a backlink from their footers.


Don’t “game” search engines by getting a ton of links from one website, says @mikeonelinecoach. #SEO
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30. Find product and brand mentions

Search for your products and brand, and inventory some websites that may be willing to link to your website. Many won’t as a matter of policy, but some will if you ask.

31. Be careful with self-created links

I’m not saying these types of links (also referred to as non-editorial links) are useless. Their value may be limited and they could be viewed as spammy (e.g., blog comments and forum profiles). You should be cautious and avoid going overboard.

32. Assess blog networks

If you create blog networks, you can control the content and build their authority over time. Other options may provide results sooner. If you tap into an existing blog network, you could be vulnerable if the network falls out of favor with search engines.

33. Use Help a Reporter Out (HARO)

With HARO, journalists share what stories they’re working on. Industry experts agree to be sources. It’s one way to earn backlinks when stories are published. Some participating media have more credibility than others.

34. Anchor text

When you request links or place links on directories, you should vary the anchor text. Don’t always use the same keywords. Link to a company, product name, or a variation of a keyword phrase you’ve used.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, good content will attract links. But the degree of your visibility will depend on your link-building efforts. What’s your experience? What approaches work best for your business?

Please note: All tools included in our blog posts are suggested by authors, not the CMI editorial team. No one post can provide all relevant tools in the space. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used).

If you follow no other tip to improving your SEO, do this: Create great content. Want help in making it great? Subscribe to the daily CMI newsletter.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

The post 34+ Link-Building Tips, Tools, and Examples for SEO and Website Traffic appeared first on Content Marketing Institute.

The New Influencers: Employee Advocacy and The Return of Organic Reach

In 2010 I was the head of marketing at a large B2B professional services firm. We had a near perfect employee advocacy system. If I wanted to get an article trending on LinkedIn, I would have employees in Eastern Europe engage with it before 9am their time. Then people in central Europe, then western Europe, then the UK. By seeding a good piece of content this way, I could be confident that by the time LinkedIn sent out its daily Pulse emails in the morning on the US east coast, that article would be a top recommendation.

For a brief window in time—something close to a year—this was the most effective method of organic reach engineering attainable on LinkedIn. It worked like a dream. It made me appear significantly more gifted than I am, and drove the vast majority of traffic to our websites. Until of course, one day it didn’t.

These are the types of golden hacks we marketers are often in search of. A little break in the space-time continuum that gifts us an advantage over the competition. The challenge with these moments is just that; they are temporary, maybe lasting a few days to a few months. But the window eventually closes, typically because others have made the same realization as you and eventually overrun it. This forces someone to tweak an algorithm and end the opportunity.

As a marketer, you’ve surely lived through this. You likely follow the latest trends on social channel strategies. You’ve maybe become skilled at ongoing testing at a scale unthought of just a few years ago. Maybe you’ve even formalized it in new ‘growth hacking’ roles within the business. This needs to be a constant process to optimize the likelihood of tripping across such an opportunity—and to recognize when the windows of opportunity are starting to close.

Like anything when we’re focused on the short-term however, sometimes we’re so close to the frame we can’t see the big picture. And in the world of organic reach, the big picture has started to come back into focus again in unexpected ways.

That Whole Content Shock Thing

Remember the days when you could write a blog post, shout about it on social channels, and people would click on it? It actually really worked. (Click here for 11 Effective Ways to Use Social Media to Promote Your Content.) It worked so well in fact, everyone who was doing it kept increasing the volume of content they were producing. Until, well, two things happened:

Content Volumes Went Nuts

You can take Mark Schaefer’s word for it, or you can look at some indicative measures like the total number of digital news articles published in a year, as tracked by Google:

Even with the rise of fake news, it seems like there’s definitely a trend at play here.

Organic Reach Took its Ball and Went Home

And that much content, well… you know the rest.

The Rise of Paid Social

The silver lining—for the primary social channels at least—of this supply-demand conundrum? Compound quarterly paid media growth rates that look something like this:

So that, it would seem, was pretty much game over. Incorporate paid media into your content distribution strategy, or no one sees your stuff.

The Return of Organic Social Reach

For the past eight years, my agency has worked with over a hundred large enterprise organizations on global content marketing strategy development and execution.

In the early days, our clients were exclusively within the marketing department of client organizations. As content marketing has become more mainstream however, there have been numerous phases of shifts in the market. A significant one was when B2C marketers started to aggressively shift money into digital. More recently, the corporate communications function largely missed the boat during Content Marketing 1.0. But they’ve started to reclaim internal ownership of stakeholder engagement through content marketing.

Perhaps the largest development I’ve witnessed in recent years has been the application of content marketing techniques to the HR function. Firstly in isolation, and more recently, in conjunction with marketing.

At the risk of promoting and thus accelerating the end of a great hack—the results are giving dramatic new life to the organic reach of many an organization’s social feeds.

First though, let’s step back and look at what I believe has created the conditions for this very unique point in time.

Who Do You Trust?

If you ever tire of jumping on Mary Meeker’s internet stats, do yourself a favor and sit down for a few hours with Edelman’s annual report into the coming apart of the planet. The Trust Barometer covers an enormous (and sometimes chilling) range of issues relating to changing societal perceptions.

For the purposes of this article however, there is one incredibly salient finding which has been consistently important since the late 2000’s. Namely: we don’t trust official spokespeople anymore. In this age of online narcissism, we are most willing to trust people just like ourselves.

Edelman Trust Barometer, 2017

Source: Edelman

Deep down, we know this to be true. Just think about the last time you booked a hotel. You’d trust the review of someone you don’t know and will never meet over what the hotel tells you about themselves.

This trend occurring at the same time as organic reach drops has, unsurprisingly, fueled the creation of another industry, as marketers seek out the next free competitive edge…

Search Trends: “Influencer Marketing”

Source: Google Trends

That’s right, we trust people like us. Well maybe they’re not exactly like us. But we agree with what they say, and they communicate with the appearance of authenticity. Which is why influencer marketing is so powerful. (Learn how to create an Influencer Marketing Program for Content Promotion.) In the image below is the same post, same influencer. But one is posted from the influencer’s own account; the other from her client’s. Lumee Case (a phone case with LED lighting that makes you look on fleek for selfies) posts, and gets 1,700+ likes. Kim posts, and gets 800,000+ likes.

As the influencer space has evolved and matured, we’ve moved through various phases. Perhaps the most interesting recent evolution is the rise of the ‘micro influencer.’ If you’re an early adopter and influential amongst your social connections in fashion or music, you’re in luck. Many major brands are looking to place two hundred $1,000 bets with a large number of people with street cred, rather than $200,000 with a single ‘Kardashian’ level influencer. As my 14 year-old son can attest.

Even in the relatively new world of influencer marketing then, we’re seeing an accelerating move away from big names towards ‘a person like yourself.’

Employee Advocacy = The New Influencers

We’ve worked with more and more enterprise HR departments on building out their employer brand and bringing it to life through social. And we have seen two additional changes start to happen.

Firstly, marketing is actually keen to be in the room with HR. Not so long ago, the concept of ‘employer branding’ was a tug-of-war disaster zone within many organizations. Marketing felt ownership of anything with ‘brand’ in the name. HR typically didn’t have the budget or relative organizational authority to make an impact. In the past two years, there has been a major shift on both sides. Now many marketing leaders are actively supporting and often driving employer branding efforts.

Perhaps the most fundamental aspect of bringing an employer brand to life is the identification and use of internal spokespeople to carry that message to the outside world. That’s right, employee advocacy. People considering working with a company have a very active authenticity radar, and want to hear from people who are—surprise—like them.

When an organization’s objectives and the employee’s aspirations are aligned, the results can be nothing short of outstanding.

For example, notice the image below from a recent LinkedIn post. In it we see PwC achieving extraordinary organic reach through what appears to be a spontaneous employee post. It is in fact the end result of an intentional strategic approach to topic selection, content co-creation, and advocacy platform.

PwC employee advocacy on LinkedIn

More unexpectedly, in the past few months we’re seeing something more significant starting to happen.

Sure, we’re getting more and more clients where both marketing and HR are in the room together, taking a common approach to content marketing.

What I think’s most interesting though, is that increasingly our marketing clients are coming to believe that perhaps the best way to market to all audiences is through employee advocacy. And not just when you’re trying to convince people to come work for you.

Back to the Future

Now companies have the same teams looking across a broader set of audience needs. And more and more are discovering that employee advocacy is the most ‘authentic’ way to reach those audiences. For awareness, perception, lead-gen, nurturing, conversion objectives—all of it.

At one-level it’s back-to-the-future. Employee advocacy tools had a first burst of relevance around five years ago—but it’s much more than that. Progressive companies are trying to leverage internal employees as their marketing channel right through to the core business strategy. They’re asking: what do we want to achieve, with whom—and which of our internal team members will drive it?

All that stuff about trusting people just like ourselves really is playing out in the marketplace.

Want to dive into the details of how companies are rediscovering employee advocacy to drive external marketing results through organic reach? Please join me for Curata’s Expert Series Webinar on Employee Advocacy and The Return of Organic Reach, Tuesday May 9 at 3pm EDT.

The post The New Influencers: Employee Advocacy and The Return of Organic Reach appeared first on Curata Blog.

Why Influencer Marketing Should Be Part of Every Marketing Mix

Why Influencer Marketing Should Be Part of Every Marketing Mix

We’re all consumers here, so let’s do a little thought experiment together. Think about the last few things you purchased or new spots in town you investigated. Do you remember how you heard about those products or places initially? Did any of the information you used in your decision originate from family, friends, coworkers, acquaintances, or celebrities?

If so, consider yourself INFLUENCED.

Word of mouth (WOM) isn’t anything new, and it’s certainly not a bad thing; as long as we’ve been conducting transactions of goods and services, we’ve expressed opinions and shared experiences. “Influencer marketing” is simply the modernized version of word of mouth, selectively enhanced by product placement originating from a trusted source (an influencer).

Today, many brands are using influencer marketing as a powerful amplification layer for their social and content initiatives.

Word of Mouth is Dead, Long Live Word of Mouth

“Advertisements are now so numerous that they are very negligently perused.” True words, indeed, but not a new circumstance. In fact, that quote is from Dr. Samuel Johnson in his The Idler essays—published in 1759!

The consumer world has become inundated, and we’ve adapted by turning off our attention—and tuning up our bullshit meter. With the barrage of ads we’re exposed to each day, it’s not surprising that we trust people more than logos. Nielsen studies show that we trust people about twice as much as we trust brands and organizations.

Do You Need Influencer Marketing?

Yes, you do. “But, Jay,” you ask doubtfully, “how can you KNOW I need it?” I know you need it, because you’re already doing it. Influencers already exist in your customer base.

These individuals are talking about your brand at this very moment. They are creating content through texts and photos and Tweets and Snaps. They are introducing new people to your business. They are advocating on your behalf and defending you during those times you have to hug your haters.

Formalizing relationships with existing and new influencers makes good business sense beyond curating great UGC and strengthening your brand’s reputation. According to consulting company Tomoson, brands are seeing average returns of $6.50 in revenue per $1 spent on influencer marketing. That’’ll work.

There are even more things that online influencers can do for you and additional ways to measure influencer marketing ROI, but I think you get the picture.

Know Your Influencer

Marketers commonly identify three types of influencers based on the number of followers they command and what value they may bring, but don’t fall into the trap of assuming that a bigger audience equates to a more “valuable” influencer. Even individuals with smaller followings can contribute to a winning influencer strategy and should be considered in your marketing mix.

Before launching any campaigns, consider both the tangible stakes of cost and time as well as the intangibles such as trust and reputation. The most successful brand-influencer partnerships are those that define goals, determine metrics, outline expectations, and communicate results.

Not every individual will be a good fit for your brand, so be strategic about with whom you work (and how). Influencers can be engaged under either paid and/or unpaid (“earned”) arrangements—the choice may change depending on business budget, timeline, and philosophy. As expected, there are both benefits and challenges to earned and paid influencer marketing, but no matter what, the best possible scenario is to find the right influencers and build relationships BEFORE you need them.

Finders, Keepers

Services including Insightpool and GroupHigh exist to help businesses efficiently identify and contact potential influencer partners. Criteria such as industry, audience size, content expertise, and more can be quickly matched with results displayed through user-friendly dashboards.

If you don’t want to perform outreach yourself, there are even influencer “talent agencies” like Viral Nation and IZEA who can assemble a custom social task force for you. Talk about some instant marketing super powers!

Whether a brand hires influencers via a service or earns them through organic interaction, what matters is this: “At the heart of both paid and earned influencer campaigns is creating long-lasting relationships.” After all, a successful brand-influencer relationship can have overarching effects beyond supporting a one-time campaign. It’s worth investing the time and effort to nurture long-term benefits.


At the heart of both paid and earned influencer campaigns is creating long-lasting relationships.
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Above and Beyond

Through the trust we extend to those in our circles of influence, we’re able to learn new information, solve existing problems, and discover new joys. That makes word of mouth a very powerful thing, when you think about it. Used selectively and managed correctly, influencer marketing can be a win-win-win for brand, influencer, and customer alike. As civil rights activist Andrew Young gently reminds, “Influence is like a savings account. The less you use it, the more you’ve got.”

Think about how you could use influence marketing to reach your customers, and let us know what successes and challenges you’ve been finding. If you want to learn more about the advantages of earned and paid influencer marketing and how influencer-based advertising can help scale your marketing efforts, download “Paid and Earned: The Two Sides of Influencer Marketing.”

This post is part of a paid sponsorship between Insightpool and Convince & Convert.

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