Earn Your Place in the Inbox

I just deleted an email without reading it (like you do). The subject line was “Not your typical Monday email.” I deleted it because I knew without a doubt that it would definitely be a typical email. (I just fished it out of the trash. It was a sales offer. Pretty typical. No?)

I’m told by so many people that email marketing is dead or that they have low open rates or that no one cares about email any more. I’m also told that no one reads email any more.

None of this is true. But there’s a massive catch. You have to actually earn your place in the inbox.

Earn Your Place in the Inbox

What gets someone to open your mail?

First, we have to discount the types of mail you really want to receive. If you LOVE fly fishing and “Fly Fishing Weekly” shows up in the inbox, of course you’ll open it. We can’t talk much about that. There’s no lesson learned by trying to copy something beloved.

But what makes you choose to open those letters that aren’t your top passion?

To earn your place in the inbox, your efforts have to touch on at least a few of these important details and points:

A Great Subject Line Helps

I subscribe to the Lefsetz letter about the music industry and culture in general. What makes me open his emails? The subject line. We are a world of browsing-swipe-right-Netflix people now. If the subject line doesn’t catch us, who’s going to open the letter?

The key to a great subject line is the act of promising something of value will be contained within. OR, if you’re clever and tricky, sometimes a clever subject line will get people in. Here are a few samples of recent subject lines I’ve sent out:

  • Connectivity Drives Repeat Business
  • The Simple Mechanism of Marketing
  • What I Told the Rockstar
  • What to Do When Everything Sucks
  • People Want a Guide

None of the subject lines are especially amazing. They’re all kind of “working class.” That’s an aesthetic I really love and push here. You’re welcome to be a bit more fabulous if you want. But the point is the same. Make sure the subject line earns your way in. Boring subject lines equal easy deletes.

What comes next?

Teach me Something

Whether or not you’re selling something, make sure you teach me something. I asked my fiance Jac what makes her choose which newsletters to open and read and she had three main points: newsletters that give her steps to follow, useful takeaways, or some deep research. Those are her top three reasons to read a newsletter. This makes sense when you see the quality of her Maria & Jane newsletter, covering women in the cannabis business world.

Education in a newsletter is a powerful tool.

Make It Human

For years and years, this has been my battle cry. So many people write newsletters as if they’re sending out a web page. They heavily HTML format the newsletter so that it’s very graphically appealing, and there’s barely a touch of humanity in the letter itself. It feels written by slaves chained to desks in a sweatshop. Here’s a hint: if you hate sending it out, no one’s going to love receiving it.

The best way to make a newsletter human is to write as if you have something to tell to a person who matters a great deal to you. Write the letter to be helpful, informative, and dare I risk it, entertaining.

Lead Somewhere

It’s amazing how many newsletters and emails are sent with not much of a sense of what you want the reader to do afterwards. They’ve read the letter. Now what? For my personal newsletter, I just invite people to hit reply. Unless I’m selling something. Then I invite them to click the purchase link OR hit reply.

But letters that end quickly, abruptly, and with no sense of a next step are a wasted opportunity. Give people a chance to go further with you. It makes a world of difference.

Summary: Earn Your Spot

The inbox is still a very powerful place to earn customers. Much better than any specific social media, that’s for sure. People still do go to their inbox. They do still open, click, reply and the like. But only if you make your work worth it to them. Hopefully this helps a bit.

(And if you want to sample my newsletter, sign up here and check out the process for yourself!)

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Three Ways Content Marketers Can Optimize Marketing Performance with Data

Optimize Content Marketing with Data

In 1984, a person saw an average 2,000 ads/day. By 2014, they saw around 5,000. (Media Dynamics)

There’s some irony to the fact that it’s due to data and information overload that consumers face on a daily basis (63gb of media per day in the US according to USC/ICT) that data has become even more important for marketers.

Successful marketing today isn’t just about creating useful content that informs buyers, it must be even easier to find in all the right places and deliver both utility and experience. Without data insights about customer preferences, it’s very difficult to deliver on that.

tami cannizzaro“Understanding how to use data to drive to the right client conversations has become the most powerful weapon in a marketer’s toolkit. Using different types of data – intent data, behavioral data, purchase data – is key to driving engagement and building a demand funnel. We use data for early stage engagement to inform our content marketing editorial calendar and campaign strategy and also to build buyer journeys by successfully converting inquires into sales conversations.”
Tami Cannizzaro – Vice President, Head of North America Marketing and Global Digital Demand Centers, CA Technologies

As for tailoring data, there are a number of factors that guide how much or little, how sophisticated or basic an approach needs to be. As an agency that primarily creates content to help B2B companies create awareness, improve engagement and drive leads/sales, our customer empathy model focuses on optimizing the relationship that prospective customers have with information during the buyer journey.

In particular, there are three key opportunities for data informed customer empathy and you can go as light or as deep as necessary. Those opportunities for optimization include:

  • Discovery – where do buyers discover resource and solution information – search, social, ads, publications, influeners and influences
  • Consumption – what are buyers preferences for content topics and types as well as devices. what experience do they expect?
  • Action – what are the intellectual and emotional triggers that will motivate them to take the next step in the journey

When brands have customer segments and even personas sorted out, you can get as specific and sophisticated as you like. If not, then it’s often more practical to phase in your approach and get deeper as you learn and complete your understanding of buyers as they discover, engage and take action with your content.

There are many ways to get started with data-informed content, including these 5 tips from Anne Leuman. Additionally, here are three high level considerations including industry research and benchmarking, private brand data and competitive data to help optimize your content marketing performance.

Industry Data for Benchmarking – One of the starting points for the use of data for improved customer engagement with content is to benchmark. Industry centric research can be useful to provide that kind of data to highlight trends and a baseline against which to guage campaign or marketing program performance. Here are a few examples:

  • Industry stats to recommend tactics. For example, to justify content marketing, a company might rely on industry research:
    – Content marketing generates over three times as many leads as outbound marketing and costs 62% less.
    – After reading recommendations on a blog, 61% of U.S. online consumers made a purchase.
  • Industry average performance metrics can also be directional benchmarks – open rate, conversion rate, cost per lead, etc can point you in a particular direction or help create some validity towards a hypothesized goal. That said, be careful about treating industry averages as universal truths since it is your own market, customers and content metrics that you’ll want to rely on most.
  • Industry data can provide a benchmark against brand data – Companies often want to create comparisons and will use industry averages of things like conversion rates and cost per lead to do so. Closing the gaps between brand performance and an industry average is what can drive initial performance optimization.
  • Benchmarks aid in content planning – Research about common issues in a particular industry can help identify key problems to be solved for the customer and the narratives that can drive the brand’s position as a solution to those problems.

Private Data for Opportunities and Performance Optimization – While industry level research and reports represent the macro view, analytics from a brand’s own website, marketing programs, search and social media could be considered the micro view. But what kind of brand data can be useful? A few examples of brand data sources:

  • Google Analytics and other web analytics data are probably the most frequently used sources of insight for content performance optimization. Conversion reports to page reports can help identify what is working and what is not.
  • Buzzsumo social share data of your website URLs overlaid on search performance can be insightful.
  • PPC campaign data such as from Google AdWords.
  • Google search console data where you can find numerous opportunities to optimize content for better search performance.
  • Social analytics from monitoring tools like Brandwatch, Linkfluence (client), or more basic tools like SproutSocial.
  • Search Marketing insights from platforms like SEMrush, Majestic and Moz.
  • CRM data including everything from open rates, traffic, landing page conversions, what percent of leads are qualified, the sources of those leads. Platforms range from HubSpot to Marketo to ESPs like Adestra.
  • RivalIQ – The emphasis is on comparing your own social and search data to competitors with robust trending reports and alerts for spikes that can help identify opportunities in the short and long term.

Challenges with brand data. Working with internal data is not without its challenges. Not every company’s IT or analytics department is willing to provide access or there are data privacy and security protocols in place that make accessing this kind of data difficult. To get access, it’s important to have a compelling use case and executive sponsorship. Also be sure to share what’s in it for IT if they provide access.

Another challenge can be the sheer volume of data, especially from large enterprise companies with robust marketing programs that may or may not be well organized. Aggregating and organizing that data from disparate marketing technology platforms and analytics applications can be a project all on its own.

The key is to have specific goals for the use of the data tied to a business case or marketing outcome. Your informed hypothesis about how to grow company revenue can open doors to the information that can inform exactly what kinds of opportunities you can leverage to make that hypothesis a reality.

Competitive Research Data – An important opportunity to use data for more informed and optimized content marketing is competitive research. Looking at other companies in your industry can provide a useful point of comparison when your company is implementing something new or if you’re a challenger brand working to move into a leadership position in the marketplace.

Here are a few types of competitive comparisons that can be useful:

  • Broad based comparisons on things like share of voice, overall footprint, share of topic, share of influence, and comparison of advertisements. These kinds of comparisons help answer what the brand is up against and where the weaknesses and strengths for opportunities are.
  • For SEO – Competitive research on search data helps to understand the share of search in a category and where the opportunities are for keywords/topics that represent an ideal ratio of competitiveness to demand. In highly competitive categories with established, deep pocket competitors, it often pays off to target a larger mix of less popular, but highly relevant and actionable keyword clusters to drive end of funnel ROI.
  • For social media – Monitoring when competitors get spiked social activity to learn from – also to see what not to do.

You can also use competitor data to find what we call “white space” – topics where the conversation isn’t saturated yet but is still highly relevant with opportunities.

For example, our work with a client that provides Field Service Management software found their market pretty saturated with content on that topic. What they saw as an opportunity was to focus on a new expression that represented a key attribute that was important to their customers.

The result of finding the niche “white space”? A single campaign focused on creating awareness and demand around the idea of “field service engagement” including an authoritative ebook, blog posts and an industry influencer resulted in $1.5m in sales pipeline.

Data is abundant and with ubiquitous connectivity and proliferation of data creating devices, there will be no shortage of data for marketers to use. The key questions to answer are about what brands hope to achieve, what kind of data they have access to and what resources are available to collect the data, analyze for insight and then use that data to execute an improved or optimized content marketing program.

For even more insights on leveraging data for marketing, listen in to this conversation I had with Seth Bridges from RivalIQ.

What to Do with Your Old Blog Posts

Around 2005 or so, corporate blogs became the thing to do. Big players in the business world touted that such platforms could “drive swarms of traffic to your main website, generate more product sales” and even “create an additional stream of advertising income” (Entrepreneur Magazine circa 2006). With promises like that, what marketer or exec wouldn’t jump on the blog bandwagon?

Unfortunately, initial forays into branded content did not always dwell on minor issues like “quality” or “entertainment,” instead focusing on sheer bulk and, of course, all the keywords. Now we have learned better, and many corporate blogs are less prolific and offer more value. But on some sites, behind many, many “next page” clicks, this old content can still be found lurking in the background.

This active company blog still features over 900 pages of posts dating back to 2006

This situation leaves current SEOs and content teams in a bit of a pickle. What should you do if your site has excessive quantities of old blog posts? Are they okay just sitting there? Do you need to do something about them?

Why bother addressing old blog posts?

On many sites, the sheer number of pages are the biggest reason to consider improving or scaling back old content. If past content managers chose quantity over quality, heaps of old posts eventually get buried, all evergreen topics have been written about before, and it becomes increasingly harder to keep inventory of your content.

From a technical perspective, depending on the scale of the old content you’re dealing with, pruning back the number of pages that you put forward can help increase your crawl efficiency. If Google has to crawl 1,000 URLs to find 100 good pieces of content, they are going to take note and not spend as much time combing through your content in the future.

From a marketing perspective, your content represents your brand, and improving the set of content that you put forward helps shape the way customers see you as an authority in your space. Optimizing and curating your existing content can give your collection of content a clearer topical focus, makes it more easily discoverable, and ensures that it provides value for users and the business.

Zooming out for a second to look at this from a higher level: If you’ve already decided that it’s worth investing in blog content for your company, it’s worth getting the most from your existing resources and ensuring that they aren’t holding you back.

Decide what to keep: Inventory and assessment

Inventory

The first thing to do before accessing your blog posts is to make sure you know what you have. A full list of URLs and coordinating metadata is incredibly helpful in both evaluating and documenting.

Depending on the content management system that you use, obtaining this list can be as simple as exporting a database field. Alternatively, URLs can be gleaned from a combination of Google Analytics data, Webmaster Tools, and a comprehensive crawl with a tool such as Screaming Frog. This post gives a good outline of how to get the data you need from these sources.

Regardless of whether you have a list of URLs yet, it’s also good to do a full crawl of your blog to see what the linking structure looks like at this point, and how that may differ from what you see in the CMS.

Assessment

Once you know what you have, it’s time to assess the content and decide if it’s worth holding on to. When I do this, I like to ask these 5 questions:

1. Is it beneficial for users?

Content that’s beneficial for users is helpful, informative, or entertaining. It answers questions, helps them solve problems, or keeps them interested. This could be anything from a walkthrough for troubleshooting to a collection of inspirational photos.

Screenshots of old real estate articles: one is about how to select a location, and the other is about how to deal with the undead

These 5-year-old blog posts from different real estate blogs illustrate past content that still offers value to current users, and past content that may be less beneficial for a user

2. Is it beneficial for us?

Content that is beneficial to us is earning organic rankings, traffic, or backlinks, or is providing business value by helping drive conversions. Additionally, content that can help establish branding or effectively build topical authority is great to have on any site.

3. Is it good?

While this may be a bit of a subjective question to ask about any content, it’s obvious when you read content that isn’t good. This is about fundamental things such as if content doesn’t make sense, has tons of grammatical errors, is organized poorly, or doesn’t seem to have a point to it.

4. Is it relevant?

If content isn’t at least tangentially relevant to your site, industry, or customers, you should have a really good reason to keep it. If it doesn’t meet any of the former qualifications already, it probably isn’t worth holding on to.

These musings from a blog of a major hotel brand may not be the most relevant to their industry

5. Is it causing any issues?

Problematic content may include duplicate content, duplicate targeting, plagiarized text, content that is a legal liability, or any other number of issues that you probably don’t want to deal with on your site. I find that the assessment phase is a particularly good opportunity to identify posts that target the same topic, so that you can consolidate them.

Using these criteria, you can divide your old blog posts into buckets of “keep” and “don’t keep.” The “don’t keep” can be 301 redirected to either the most relevant related post or the blog homepage. Then it’s time to further address the others.

What to do with the posts you keep

So now you have a pile of “keep” posts to sort out! All the posts that made it this far have already been established to have value of some kind. Now we want to make the most of that value by improving, expanding, updating, and promoting the content.

Improve

When setting out to improve an old post that has good bones, it can be good to start with improvements on targeting and general writing and grammar. You want to make sure that your blog post has a clear point, is targeting a specific topic and terms, and is doing so in proper English (or whatever language your blog may be in).

Once the content itself is in good shape, make sure to add any technical improvements that the piece may need, such as relevant interlinking, alt text, or schema markup.

Then it’s time to make sure it’s pretty. Visual improvements such as adding line breaks, pull quotes, and imagery impact user experience and can keep people on the page longer.

Expand or update

Not all old blog posts are necessarily in poor shape, which can offer a great opportunity. Another way to get more value out of them is to repurpose or update the information that they contain to make old content fresh again. Data says that this is well worth the effort, with business bloggers that update older posts being 74% more likely to report strong results.

A few ways to expand or update a post are to explore a different take on the initial thesis, add newer data, or integrate more recent developments or changed opinions. Alternatively, you could expand on a piece of content by reinterpreting it in another medium, such as new imagery, engaging video, or even as audio content.

Promote

If you’ve invested resources in content creation and optimization, it only makes sense to try to get as many eyes as possible on the finished product. This can be done in a few different ways, such assharing and re-sharing on branded social channels, resurfacing posts to the front page of your blog, or even a bit of external promotion through outreach.

The follow-up

Once your blog has been pruned and you’re working on getting the most value out of your existing content, an important final step is to keep tabs on the effect these changes are having.

The most significant measure of success is organic organic traffic; even if your blog is designed for lead generation or other specific goals, the number of eyes on the page should have a strong correlation to the content’s success by other measures as well. For the best representation of traffic totals, I monitor organic sessions by landing page in Google Analytics.

I also like to keep an eye on organic rankings, as you can get an early glimpse of whether a piece is gaining traction around a particular topic before it’s successful enough to earn organic traffic with those terms.

Remember that regardless of what changes you’ve made, it will usually take Google a few months to sort out the relevance and rankings of the updated content. So be patient, monitor, and keep expanding, updating, and promoting!