Sponsored Post – Staples Consulting Sweepstakes Winner

holyoke hummus cafe The following post is sponsored by Staples. The words are all mine. They paid for me to give away an hour of consulting to a small business owner looking to grow their business.

John Grossman runs the Holyoke Hummus Company out in western Massachusetts. He started out with a food truck promoting fresh tasty falafel sandwiches that were healthy but felt decadent. John’s had a lot of success in other businesses, but food can be tricky. When timing struck that he could acquire restaurant space and open a brick and mortar business to complement the truck, he had to take the opportunity.

The Challenge: Get More Dinner Guests

The sponsor of John’s consulting, Staples, points out in their recent survey, that finding new customers and marketing growth is a challenge. John told me that he was getting plenty of lunch traffic, but that dinner was a bit too quiet. Economics-wise, per-customer lunch tickets average probably around $15, but dinner had the chance to be even more lucrative, especially if he could attract family dining experiences more frequently.

This is where I stepped in.

The Recommendation: Build Fast Take-Out and Delivery Options

While dinner’s a better per-customer revenue opportunity, people aren’t eating out as often as they used to according to many studies, especially in the Millennial crowd. So I had a recommendation.

Before I talk about the recommendation, I have to tell you something sponsor-related. I mentioned running to Staples to get some flyers printed up and he laughed and said something about this being paid for by Staples, so naturally he thought I “worked it in there” to talk about a trip to Staples. Both John and I love Staples. We have intimate past business experiences with the company, quite often with the print center’s ability to deliver what we need quickly and at a price point we love. In the middle of giving John my idea, we had a laugh about this.

But the pause is important, because it’s true. I told John not to do a lot on social media beyond what he was already doing. I said that printing something simple that recommended a very specific dining opportunity (fast falafel family platters) married with something people love (like watching Netflix) would be a great way to start promoting.

Hand those simple postcards out to people in the lunch crowd and talk up the offering. Easy peasy. What makes the printed material better in my conversation with John is that you can tack it up at your cubicle at work. It becomes something to look at during the day. It’s a gentle reminder. Maybe you forget about it for a week or two, but then, “Oh yeah, the Holyoke Hummus Company! I should get a platter before the game.” Kapow.

The Marketing Mindset Here

John’s smart and he’s focused on several things. He’s grown the brand. He’s working the community aspects because Holyoke matters to him. And he’s of course perfecting the product at every turn. This restaurant business is a new venture to him and so he was working from existing models.

MY idea was just to look at trends, look outside the methods others were approaching, and think about how we could meet the customers at the marketplace of their choosing. This was the magic trick. Everyone can try to get people to their restaurant. I wanted John to try getting his great falafel and hummus meal experience to people who aren’t coming out of their houses like they used to for dining.

The flyers? Well, it’s good that Staples can help with that sort of thing.

The previous was a sponsored post. They don’t get a vote on the words I use. Those are all mine. You should check out Staples for your business, as they have a LOT more than just Post-it notes and pens. Their Copy center is one of my secret weapons.

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Crushing Conclusions: Why Content Marketers Shouldn’t Skip the Ending

Importance of Conclusions in Content Marketing

We marketing writers spend a lot of time crafting a piece of content. In fact, according to Orbit Media’s most recent blogger survey, most writers spend about three and half hours crafting one blog post—which is a one-hour jump from its first report in 2014, highlighting to me the focus on quality over quantity of output.

But let’s be honest, regardless of how long we spend on a piece of content, we have our priorities in terms of how we spend that time. The title, while just a few words, is how we grab audience attention or entice the click. The introduction is how we hook the readers. And, of course, the body is at the heart of it all where we make good on everything we’ve promised in the headline and introduction.

But when it comes to tying it all up with a solid conclusion, I’d argue that many of us aren’t giving that component the thought and care it deserves.

In today’s crowded content landscape and increasing numbness to marketing messages, we can’t afford to leave any opportunity for engagement, connection, and conversions on the table. So for me, conclusions shouldn’t be an afterthought, but rather an essential marketing storytelling element for three main reasons—which is something I detail in this little video shoot I did with TopRank Marketing President Susan Misukanis.

Take a peek at my video debut if you want the Cliff’s Notes, but I encourage you to keep reading to get more depth and examples that can inspire the next piece you craft.

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3 Reasons Conclusions Deserve Content Marketing Care

#1 – Content consumption is bite-sized.

First of all, it’s no secret that humans have short attention spans. How short? Roughly 8 seconds. And in an age of so much content at our fingertips, so much content that is ready to be consumed—it’s overwhelming. As a result—whether we’re curious about a new trend, researching something we may need to purchase, professional development—we often scan or skim content to get satisfy our need for credible, quality content in the shortest amount of time.

All that said, there are absolutely moments when we’re willing to commit to diving deeper and give something our full attention—which brings me to my next point.

#2 – If we’ve done our jobs and we’ve enticed a reader to the end, we absolutely want to leave them with something of value.

At a minimum, you should be circling back to your main points to give your audience a great summary and then providing them with a next step. Depending on your industry, audience, topic and stage in the funnel, there’s a few different considerations here:

The Engagement Play

Keeping folks on-page and encouraging them to interact with the content. The easiest example here is asking a thought-provoking question that relates to the topic and gives readers a chance to lend their voice.

Here’s an example from my recent post regarding Facebook’s latest algorithm changes and what they meant for influencer marketing.

As you can read, there’s a summary, actionable next steps from a takeaway and other reading standpoint, and then a related question to encourage discussion.

Engaging Conclusion Example for Content Marketers

The Emotional Play

Appealing to your reader’s emotions by leaving them with a little food for thought, inspiration or encouragement is a great way to reinforce every word up until that point and create a more personal connection. From my perspective, this route is especially great for thought leadership pieces.

In my journalism days, one of my go-to tactics here was to end with a compelling quote from one of my sources. I’d bring it all back together and then frost it with an interesting, uplifting, or sometimes a little heart-wrenching quote to really drive it home.

Here’s a subtle example from the *LinkedIn Marketing Solutions Blog. Titled Play Ball! How Marketers Can Apply the Principles of Spring Training and Experimentation, this baseball-themed post discusses how marketers can use spring training as inspiration for validating and optimizing social ad campaigns. With baseball season kicking off, the metaphor itself has a great hook for appealing to their audience’s interests.

When it comes to the conclusion, the minimum best practices of circling back and providing a summary are in play. And it’s done with the inspirational, “you can do it” sentiment woven throughout. Then the final line—”Step on up to the plate and give it a try”—gives readers “permission” to try a little something new. Of course, there’s a related CTA, too.

Emotion Evoking Conclusion Example for Content Marketers

The Tactical Play

This one is simple and probably one of the most widely used. This is all about giving readers something to do next. You’ve addressed a pain point or issue, you’ve offered insights and some solutions, but now the question is: What do they do next?

I want to be careful to say that this isn’t just a simple call to action. The conclusion should absolutely lead them to believe that the end CTA is worth their time.

Here’s a lovely example from TopRank Marketing’s Anne Leuman. Her recent post on search marketing integration, which featured a philosophical theme, she reinforces her main point and highlights key benefits. When it comes time to deliver the next step, she uses a “but wait there’s more” approach that tells the reader they have more integration possibilities to discover.

Tactical Conclusion Example for Content Marketers

Play Integration

These three plays don’t stand alone. They can be played with and combined to fit your topic, audience, and natural next steps for readers.

In our own Nick Nelson recent post In a World of Diminishing Trust, Data-Driven Marketers Can Turn the Tide, Nick tackles consumer mistrust and what that means for marketers moving forward. He begins with data-mishap story, outlines the trust issue, talks about the solution, and then it’s time for the conclusion where he artfully leverages a combination of the plays above.

His first few paragraphs tug at the emotional and inspirational heartstrings, but also delivers tactical value with next steps and takeaways.

Conclusion Example from Nick Nelson

But his final line really drives it all home:

Final Line of Nick Nelson Conclusion

Finally, the related CTA isn’t just a simple “Read more” line.

CTA in Nick Nelson Conclusion

#3 – Every great story has a great ending.

Last, and certainly not least—and although it may sound a little hokey: Every great story has a great ending. No actually, every great story deserves a great ending. Period.

In Conclusion …

< Wow. No pressure or anything. >

We marketing writers are dedicated to our craft, spending hours to develop click-worthy headlines, compelling hooks and valuable body copy. But let’s not forget that every great story needs to have a great ending.

At a minimum, you should be circling back to your main points to give your audience a thoughtful summary and then providing them with a next step. And depending on your industry, topic, audience, and stage in the funnel, you should blend tactics to leave readers with something of value—whether that be inspiration, food for thought, actionable nexts steps or takeaways, or a little mix of everything.

The bottom line? Take it from the Master of Conclusions, Tom Smykowski:

Don't Skip the Conclusion Meme

Looking for ways to up your writing productivity, while also delivering on quality? Getting started can be the hardest part, so why not start with your conclusion? Get more content productivity hacks to help you take creation from failing to flying high.

What are your thoughts on the importance of conclusions? Do you agree with me? Disagree? Share your thoughts on the subject.

*LinkedIn is a TopRank Marketing client.

Google Confirms Chrome Usage Data Used to Measure Site Speed

During a discussion with Google’s John Mueller at SMX Munich in March, he told me an interesting bit of data about how Google evaluates site speed nowadays. It has gotten a bit of interest from people when I mentioned it at SearchLove San Diego the week after, so I followed up with John to clarify my understanding.

The short version is that Google is now using performance data aggregated from Chrome users who have opted in as a datapoint in the evaluation of site speed (and as a signal with regards to rankings). This is a positive move (IMHO) as it means we don’t need to treat optimizing site speed for Google as a separate task from optimizing for users.

Previously, it has not been clear how Google evaluates site speed, and it was generally believed to be measured by Googlebot during its visits — a belief enhanced by the presence of speed charts in Search Console. However, the onset of JavaScript-enabled crawling made it less clear what Google is doing — they obviously want the most realistic data possible, but it’s a hard problem to solve. Googlebot is not built to replicate how actual visitors experience a site, and so as the task of crawling became more complex, it makes sense that Googlebot may not be the best mechanism for this (if it ever was the mechanism).

In this post, I want to recap the pertinent data around this news quickly and try to understand what this may mean for users.

Google Search Console

Firstly, we should clarify our understand of what the “time spent downloading a page” metric in Google Search Console is telling us. Most of us will recognize graphs like this one:

Until recently, I was unclear about exactly what this graph was telling me. But handily, John Mueller comes to the rescue again with a detailed answer [login required] (hat tip to James Baddiley from Chillisauce.com for bringing this to my attention):

John clarified what this graph is showing:

It’s technically not “downloading the page” but rather “receiving data in response to requesting a URL” – it’s not based on rendering the page, it includes all requests made.

And that it is:

this is the average over all requests for that day

Because Google may be fetching a very different set of resources every day when it’s crawling your site, and because this graph does not account for anything to do with page rendering, it is not useful as a measure of the real performance of your site.

For that reason, John points out that:

Focusing blindly on that number doesn’t make sense.

With which I quite agree. The graph can be useful for identifying certain classes of backend issues, but there are also probably better ways for you to do that (e.g. WebPageTest.org, of which I’m a big fan).

Okay, so now we understand that graph and what it represents, let’s look at the next option: the Google WRS.

Googlebot & the Web Rendering Service

Google’s WRS is their headless browser mechanism based on Chrome 41, which is used for things like “Fetch as Googlebot” in Search Console, and is increasingly what Googlebot is using when it crawls pages.

However, we know that this isn’t how Google evaluates pages because of a Twitter conversation between Aymen Loukil and Google’s Gary Illyes. Aymen wrote up a blog post detailing it at the time, but the important takeaway was that Gary confirmed that WRS is not responsible for evaluating site speed:

Twitter conversation with Gary Ilyes

At the time, Gary was unable to clarify what was being used to evaluate site performance (perhaps because the Chrome User Experience Report hadn’t been announced yet). It seems as though things have progressed since then, however. Google is now able to tell us a little more, which takes us on to the Chrome User Experience Report.

Chrome User Experience Report

Introduced in October last year, the Chrome User Experience Report “is a public dataset of key user experience metrics for top origins on the web,” whereby “performance data included in the report is from real-world conditions, aggregated from Chrome users who have opted-in to syncing their browsing history and have usage statistic reporting enabled.”

Essentially, certain Chrome users allow their browser to report back load time metrics to Google. The report currently has a public dataset for the top 1 million+ origins, though I imagine they have data for many more domains than are included in the public data set.

In March I was at SMX Munich (amazing conference!), where along with a small group of SEOs I had a chat with John Mueller. I asked John about how Google evaluates site speed, given that Gary had clarified it was not the WRS. John was kind enough to shed some light on the situation, but at that point, nothing was published anywhere.

However, since then, John has confirmed this information in a Google Webmaster Central Hangout [15m30s, in German], where he explains they’re using this data along with some other data sources (he doesn’t say which, though notes that it is in part because the data set does not cover all domains).

At SMX John also pointed out how Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool now includes data from the Chrome User Experience Report:

The public dataset of performance data for the top million domains is also available in a public BigQuery project, if you’re into that sort of thing!

We can’t be sure what all the other factors Google is using are, but we now know they are certainly using this data. As I mentioned above, I also imagine they are using data on more sites than are perhaps provided in the public dataset, but this is not confirmed.

Pay attention to users

Importantly, this means that there are changes you can make to your site that Googlebot is not capable of detecting, which are still detected by Google and used as a ranking signal. For example, we know that Googlebot does not support HTTP/2 crawling, but now we know that Google will be able to detect the speed improvements you would get from deploying HTTP/2 for your users.

The same is true if you were to use service workers for advanced caching behaviors — Googlebot wouldn’t be aware, but users would. There are certainly other such examples.

Essentially, this means that there’s no longer a reason to worry about pagespeed for Googlebot, and you should instead just focus on improving things for your users. You still need to pay attention to Googlebot for crawling purposes, which is a separate task.

If you are unsure where to look for site speed advice, then you should look at:

That’s all for now! If you have questions, please comment here and I’ll do my best! Thanks!

Bring the Edge to the Center and the Center to the Edge

If you’ve known me for a while, maybe you’re wondering, “What’s Chris up to right now? Why is he talking about stuff like AI, blockchain, chatbots, and the IoT?” I know. It feels weird, because maybe you have me categorized wrong like lots of people do. Maybe you thought I was supposed to talk about tweets and emails forever, as if they were ever the goal and not just the delivery mechanism.

Not going to happen.

What’s Exciting is The Marketplace

I love the reality that’s upon us right now. The marketplace of old, that physical crossroads where merchants and the community intersected to exchange goods, has long since vanished. Sure, a few bazaars happen out in the world, but mostly for show. They make good tourist pictures.

The marketplace now is at the edge. It’s where we are. And so is the community. So are the opportunities. Everything is at the edge. It’s nowhere. You don’t have to BE somewhere any more, if you don’t want. Or, if the somewhere part is important, you can bring what you need to the edge.

Bring the Edge to the Center and the Center to the Edge

I can be face down in writing this and say aloud, “Alexa, order me some more AA batteries,” and they’ll arrive two days from now without me having to think anything more about it. I’m at the center of the marketplace wherever I am. Amazon’s Echo platform is an Internet of Things (IoT) play that hints ever so vaguely at what we’ll all be doing naturally in the next few years.

My cultural intentions are easier to facilitate. My community of shared interest is easier to thread together. With blockchain, I’ll very soon be able to order the KIND of electrical power I want to pay for (water, wind, solar) and thus be able to vote for my beliefs with my dollars. ( This is what I mean.)

The same way web tools like blogs and YouTube and Twitter and so on have allowed more and more people to be media stars, the NEXT layer of all this will be driven by blockchain and IoT and chatbots and AI and we’ll have a lot more control of our data, a lot more options for extracting and sharing value, and many ways to curate and create the kind of interactions we want to have.

Social Networks for the Edge

Just as all the big social networks are feeling fatter and less about “us,” all the little dating apps and simpler social networks are picking up steam because they’re allowing like minded communities to form and bring all these people around all these various edges to a joined center.

It starts with dating apps (Tinder, Grindr, Bumble, etc) and moves into whatever other interests people want to gather around. I googled “Cannabis social network” and there were a dozen or more. I googled “LGBT social network” and found plenty. Vegan? Yep. Whatever you want to search for, there are now smaller and simpler social networks hiding in the shadows of the “big guys.”

Data as Fuel and as Center-Makers

What comes soon (it’s here already, but just not evenly distributed) are all the innovations in data being more available, faster, and able to be tailored to our interests. Right now we use Cortana and Google Home to initiate requests. Soon, our virtual assistants will sift massive stacks of information to pick what we teach them we care about. Oh, there’s a Babymetal concert tomorrow in Boston AND tickets are only $50 AND two other people I know and like who like Babymetal have already said yes? Sure. Buy it. Done.

Right now, there’s either no data, too much data, or no way to do something useful quickly with data for many of us. That will change. And as it does, the tools we use to work with that information will adapt and grow and learn to anticipate our needs and bring what matters to us to the center.

The Story Continues

The stories I’m telling through my Podcast and my Amazon Flash Briefing and via my newsletter (and my forthcoming book) are all building towards helping us figure this all out. The same way I showed you (and continue to show you) how blogs and podcasts and video are neato, I want to help you find your way through all the new stuff.

What’s the best way to build a chatbot that won’t upset your customers?

How can you thread together a few simple blockchain apps and suddenly get more business from the big guys?

What will AI look like when it’s just a service you rent the way you pay for web hosting?

That’s what I’m working on with you.

I’ll bring all those weird edges to our mutual center. Are you with me? It’s going to get even more crazy (but in only the best of ways)!

If this has been interesting

Consider grabbing my newsletter. It’s only going up from here.

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Digital Marketing News: CMO Diversity Shortfalls, Goo.gl Retirement, Facebook’s New A/B Tests

Brands Fail to Meet the ANA’s Diversity Goals, Too

Brands Fail to Meet the ANA’s Diversity Goals, Too
Progress has been strong in CMO gender balance while ethnic diversity continues to face significant shortfalls, according to new research from the Association of National Advertisers and its inaugural CMO scorecard. While 45 percent of top marketer positions examined in the ANA member data were female, only 13 percent were people of color. AdWeek

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Instagram Makes Stories Advertising Easier with Automatic Full-screen Support
Instagram advertisers can now have square or landscape ad photos or videos automatically reformatted for full-screen utilization, one of several new features the firm recently announced as part of an effort to improve Instagram Stories. Marketing Land

YouTube Launches Reach-Based Pricing for User-Skippable Ads
YouTube advertisers can buy spots skippable after five seconds with prices based on a CPM basis, the firm has announced. With TruView for Reach, YouTube now offers an ad option aside from its in-stream non-skippable “bumper” ads and its traditional TrueView ads. Variety

Goo.gl Shutting Down – These are Your Options
Google’s popular URL shortener goo.gl is being phased out over the next year, with the Internet giant supporting a move to the newer take on short and persistent links that is offered with Firebase Dynamic Links (FDL). Existing goo.gl links will continue to function, however, Google has noted. Search Engine Journal

Advertisers on Facebook Have Some New Ways to Conduct A/B Tests
Facebook advertisers can now use split A/B tests in its Ads Manager’s Quick Creation system, the company announced Monday, a new option to augment the creative split testing it launched in October. The option to easily duplicate split tests while keeping them separate from existing settings was also among several new features Facebook rolled out this week. AdWeek

Snapchat Lays Off 100 From Advertising Division in Department Restructure
Three percent of Snapchat’s workforce has been cut in layoffs, with 100 workers in the firm’s advertising department being the latest affected in a series of downsizing that has followed lukewarm quarterly earnings results, Snapchat announced this week. AdWeek

Diversity And Gender Progress Is Mixed Among ANA Member CMOs

Facebook Will No Longer Allow Third-Party Data for Targeting Ads
Facebook has begun disabling its popular Partner Categories, as part of a continued recent effort to combat potentially vulnerable advertising practices, the company has announced. The Verge

Twitter’s Timestamps Lets You Share Live Videos from Any Specific Moment
The ability to schedule live videos with a new Timestamps feature has been announced by Twitter, as part of a new set of tool options that also allows video replays to begin at any point. The Verge

Snapchat is Testing ‘Connected Apps’ for Sharing Information
Snapchat has made way for the possibility of offering connected apps in its latest beta version, a move which could eventually mean a similar feature in its widely-used release version. Mashable

Google Lets Businesses Post Offers to Organic Search Results
Google is testing a new feature that allows businesses to present offers in both maps and directly in SERPs, from Google My Business pages, including offer photos, text, link, dates and times. Search Engine Journal

Facebook Restricts APIs, Axes Old Instagram Platform Amidst Scandals
Facebook is shutting down portions of the Instagram API for developers months ahead of a previously-scheduled July 31 deprecation, in the wake of Facebook’s must-publicized recent privacy concerns. TechCrunch

Bing Adds More Intelligent Search Features
Bing has launched several new search features, including aggregated facts from multiple sources, hover-over definitions for uncommon words, image search object detection zoom enhancements, along with updated handling of how-to questions, the company announced. Search Engine Roundtable

ON THE LIGHTER SIDE:

Marketoonist Personal Data Simplicity Comic

A lighthearted look at product proliferation, non-universal USB frustration, and Steve Jobs’ product matrix – Marketoonist

April Fools’ the Day After: Our Roundup of Every Brand Stunt You Missed the First Time Around – AdWeek

Google Rickrolls SEOs With Recrawl Now Button – SEO Roundtable

‘Stolen office lunch’ drama has Twitter gripped – BBC

TOPRANK MARKETING & CLIENTS IN THE NEWS:

  • LinkedIn (client) – How to Ignite Your LinkedIn Marketing Strategy [Infographic] — MarketingProfs
  • Lee Odden – 47 Quotes about content marketing from top content marketers — Medium
  • Steve Slater – Search Marketing Scoop with David Bain #5 [podcast] — SEM Rush
  • Ashley Zeckman – Romancing B2B Influencers: How to Attract, Engage and Persuade Influencers to Co-Create — AMA Iowa
  • DivvyHQ (client) – [Interactive Guide] Take Your Content Marketing Program Back to the Future with DivvyHQ — DivvyHQ

Don’t miss next week, when we’ll be sharing all new marketing news stories, and in the meantime you can follow us at @toprank on Twitter for even more timely daily news. Also, don’t miss the full video summary on our TopRank Marketing TV YouTube Channel.

The Pro Marketer’s Product Launch Checklist for 2018 – Whiteboard Friday

What goes into a truly exceptional product launch? To give your new product a feature the best chance at success, it’s important to wrangle all the many moving pieces involved in pulling off a seamless marketing launch. From listing audience members and influencers to having the right success metrics to having a rollback plan, Rand shares his best advice in the form of an actionable checklist in this Whiteboard Friday. And make sure to check out the last item — it may be the best one to start with!

The Pro Marketer's Product Launch Checklist 2018

Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high-resolution version in a new tab!

Video Transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we are chatting about crafting a professional marketer’s product launch checklist for 2018.

So many of you are undoubtedly in the business of doing things around SEO and around web marketing, around content marketing, around social media marketing in service of a product that you are launching or a feature that you are launching or multiple products. I think it pays for us to examine what goes into a very successful product launch.

Of course, I’ve been a part of many of these at Moz, as part of many of the startups and other companies that I advise, and there are some shared characteristics, particularly from the marketing perspective. I won’t focus on the product and engineering perspectives. We’ll talk about marketing product launches today.

☑ A defined audience, accompanied by a list of 10–100 real, individual people in the target group

So to start with, very first, top of our list, a defined audience. That can be a demographic or a psychographic set of characteristics that define your audience or a topic, a niche, a job title or job function type of characteristics that comprise the profile of who’s in your group. That should be accompanied by a list of 10 to 100 real people.

I know that many marketers out there love using personas, and I think it’s fine to use personas to help define this audience. But I’m going to urge you strongly to have that real list. Those could be:

  • Customers that you know you’re targeting,
  • People who have bought from you in the past and you’re hoping will buy again,
  • People who maybe you’ve lost and are hoping to recapture, maybe they use a competitor’s product today or they’re notable in some way.

As long as they fit your characteristics, I want you to have that list of those real people.

The problem with personas is you can’t talk to them. You can’t ask them real questions, or you can, but only in your own mind and your imagination fills in the details. These are real people that you can talk to, email, ask questions, show the product to, show the launch plan to and get real feedback. They should have shared characteristics. They should have an affinity for the product that you’re building or launching, hopefully, and they should share the problem.

Whatever the problem, almost every product, in fact, hopefully every product is actually trying to solve a problem better than the thing that came before it or the many things that came before it. Your audience should share whatever that problem is that you’re trying to solve.

☑ List of 25–500 influential people in the space, + contact info and an outreach plan

Okay. We’ll give this a nice check mark. Next, list of influential people in the space. That could be 25 to even hundreds or thousands of people potentially, plus their contact information and an outreach plan. That outreach plan should include why each target is going to care about the problem, about the solution, and why they’re going to share. Why will they amplify?

This is in answer to the question: Who will help amplify this and why? If you don’t have a great answer to that, your product launch will almost certainly fall flat from a marketing perspective. If you can build a successful one of these, that list, especially if before you even launch, you know that 20 of these 500 people have said, “Yes, I’m going to amplify. Here’s why I care about this. I can’t wait until you give me permission to share it or release this thing or send me the version of it.” That’s an awesome, awesome step.

☑ List of influential publications and media that influencers and target audience members consume

Next, similarly, just like we have a list of influential people, we want a list of influential publications and media that many influencers and many of your target audience members read, watch, subscribe to, listen to, follow, etc. So it’s basically these two groups should be paying attention to the media, to the publications that we’re trying to list out here. Essentially, that could be events that these people go to. It could be podcasts they listen to. It could be shows they watch, blogs or email newsletters they subscribe to. It could be traditional media, magazines, radio, YouTube channel. Whatever those publications are, all of them are the ones we’re trying to build a list of here.

That is going to be part of our outreach target. We might have these influential people, and some of these could overlap. Some of these influential people may work for or at these influential publications and that’s fine. I just worry that too much influencer marketing is focused on individuals and not on publications when, in fact, both are critical to a product launch success.

☑ Metrics for success

Metrics, yes, marketers need metrics for success. Those should be in three buckets — exposure and branding, which include things like press and mentions and social engagement, maybe a survey comparison of before and after. We ran an anonymous survey to a group of our target audience before and after and we measured brand awareness differential. Traffic, so links, rankings, visits, time on site, etc., and conversions. That could be measured through last touch or through preferably full-funnel attribution.

☑ Promotional schedule with work items by team member and rollback plan

A promotion schedule. So this means we actually know what we’re doing and in what order as the launch rolls out. That could be before launch we’re doing a bunch of things around private beta or around sharing with some of these influential people and publications. Or we haven’t defined the audience yet. We need to do that. We have that schedule and work items by each team member, and we’re going to need a rollback plan. So if at any point along the way, the person who owns the product process says, “This is not good enough,” or, “We have a fundamental error,” or, “The flamethrower we’re building shoots ice instead of fire,” we should probably either rename and rebrand it or roll it back. We have that structure set up.

☑ FAQ from the beta/test period, from both potential customers and influencers

Next, frequently asked questions. This is where a beta or test period and test users come in super handy, because they will have asked us a bunch of questions. They’ll have asked as they’re playing with or observing or using the product. We should be able to take all of those questions from both potential customers and from influencers, and we should have those answers set up for our customer service and help teams and for people who are interfacing with the press and with influencers in case they reach out.

In an ideal world, we would also publish these online. We would have a place where we could reference them. They’re already published. This is particularly handy when press and influencers cover a launch and they link to a, “Oh, here’s how the ice thrower,” I’m assuming, “that we’re building is meant to work, and here’s at what temperatures it’s safe to operate,” etc.

☑ Media assets & content for press/influencer use

Next up, media assets and content for those press and publications and influencer use. For example:

  • Videos of people using the product and playing with it
  • Screencasts, screenshots if it’s a digital or software product
  • Photos
  • Demo-able versions if you want to give people login access to something special
  • Guidelines for press usage and citations, as well as things like logo and style guide

All of those types of things. Trust me, if your product launch goes well, people will ask you for this, or they will just use things that they steal from your site. You would much prefer to be able to control these assets and to control where the links and citations point, especially from an SEO perspective.

☑ Paid promotion triggers, metrics to watch, and KPIs

Next up, penultimate on our checklist, paid promotion triggers. So most of the time, when you’re doing a product launch, there will also be some component that is non-organic, i.e., paid such as paid content. It could be pay-per-click ads. It could be Facebook advertising. It could be web advertising. It could be retargeting and remarketing. It could be broadcast advertising. All of those kinds of things.

You will want with each of those triggers, triggers that essentially say, “Okay, we’ve reached the point where we are now ready. We executed along our schedule, so we are now ready to turn on the paid promotion, and channel X is going to be the start of that, then channel Y and then channel Z.”

Then we should have KPIs, key performance indicators, that tell us whether we’re going to grow or shrink that spend, something like this. So we know, hey, the product launch is going this well, so we’re going to keep our current level investment. But if we tick up over here, we’re going to invest more. If we get to here, we’re going to max out our spend. We know that our maximum spend is X. Versus it goes the other way and over here, we’re going to cut. We’re going to cut all spend if we fall below metric Z.

☑ A great set of answers and 100% alignment on the following statement:

Last but not least on our checklist, this should exist even prior to a product design process. In fact, if you’re doing this at the end of a product launch checklist, the rest of this is not going to go so well. But if you start product design with this in mind and then maintain it all the way through launch, through messaging, through all the marketing that you do, you’re going to be in good shape. That is a great set of answers and 100% alignment, meaning everyone on the team, who’s working on this, agrees that this is how we’re going to position this on this statement.

Before the product we’re launching existed, our target audience, the group of people up here, was underserved in these ways or by previous solutions or because of these problems. But now, thanks to the thing that we’ve done, the thing that we’ve created and what is extraordinary about this product, these problems or this problem is solved.

If you design in this fashion and then you roll out in this fashion, you get this wonderful alignment and connection between how you’re branding and marketing the product and how the product was conceived and built. The problem and its solution become clear throughout. That tends to do very, very well for product building and product launching.

All right, everyone, if you have additions to this checklist, I hope you leave them in the comments below. We’ll see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

To Gate, or Not to Gate? Answers to an Age-Old Digital Marketing Question

When Not to Gate Your Content

Modern marketers understand that quality, engaging and relevant content is at the core of any integrated digital marketing strategy. After all, in a world where consumers are increasingly self-directed in researching their options to make purchasing decisions, that quality, engaging and relevant content aids their journey and decision-making.

But let’s face it. While marketers want to inform and engage their audience, they ultimately want to generate viable leads to meet their goals and grow their respective businesses. Oftentimes, that means deciding when, where and how to gate certain content assets. In fact, perhaps one of the most common questions we get from our book of clients is: “Should I gate my content?”

The answer? It depends.

It depends on your objectives. It depends on your brand or product’s maturity in the marketplace. It depends on your content ecosystem. It depends on the “content of the content.” And it depends on your lead nurturing capabilities.

As a result, strategic decision-making is crucial, otherwise your content may never see the light of day. With that said, there are several situations where we believe gated content should be left off the table.

#1 –  When you’re looking to build brand awareness.

Simply put, if you’re hoping to get eyeballs on your content and drive traffic and on-page engagement, give your content away “for free.”

If you’re an emerging brand or part of a younger or smaller company, brand awareness is an important step in building your audience. By providing your prospects with great, accessible content throughout the funnel, you can plant seeds and strengthen your perceived value—which can pay off later.

For more established brands, you know that just because you have high visibility and a strong reputation doesn’t mean a focus on brand awareness is no longer necessary. Awareness is still key for growing your audience, staying top of mind or gaining share of voice when a new product or service is released into the wild. So, if you’re creating content with the goal of strengthening awareness at the top and middle of the funnel, leave it ungated.

Simply put, if you’re hoping to get eyeballs on your content and drive traffic and on-page engagement, give your content away “for free.” – @Alexis5484 #DigitalMarketing #ContentMarketing Click To Tweet

#2 – When your brand, product or service is new to market.

This point is particularly important for startups or rising brands in a competitive marketplace.

For those pioneering a new field, you’re likely up against little to no demand for your product or service—meaning you’ve created a solution for a problem your audience doesn’t know they have yet. So, how can you expect someone to “pay” for content if they don’t know anything about your purpose, function or value?

For those rising brands in more established sectors, you’re likely competing with well-known or long-standing brands the same share of voice. And while you may be desperate for leads, providing quality, relevant content for “free” is where you should start in order to stand out.

#3 – When you don’t have quality, ungated content to bolster a gated asset.

When you gate a content asset, you’re signaling to your audience that what you’re offering is of premium value; content that requires a bit of payment to be enjoyed. So at the very least, you need to ask yourself if the content is truly valuable and worthy of that payment.

In addition, you need to make sure that your “free” content is up to par, too. Think of it this way: Your ungated content serves as an appetizer for your audience, allowing them to gauge whether their entree, a gated ask, may be worth it. So, it’s important to ensure you have a strong ecosystem of ungated content to bolster any gated content. It’s as simple as that.

It’s important to ensure you have a strong ecosystem of ungated content to bolster any gated content. – @Alexis5484 #DigitalMarketing #ContentMarketing Click To Tweet

#4 – When you don’t have a thoughtful nurture strategy in place.

We’ve established that all marketers are hungry for leads and gated content helps satisfy that hunger. But once you get those new leads in, do you have a lead nurturing strategy in place to support them?

If your plan only involves a standard “thank you” email and then sending the names off to sales, you’re not ready to gate an asset. You need to put together an automated email nurture first, as well as tracking and testing, to make sure you can optimize and personalize the experience for prospects.

#5 – When you’ve co-created content with influencers.

When you co-create a piece of content or asset with influencers, you want them to be proud of the finished product and ultimately share it with their followings. However, in our experience, if that content is behind a wall they’ll be far less likely to promote it.

Why? For a couple reasons:

  1. If your influencer partnerships were unpaid, some may feel uncomfortable with you “charging” for their content and expertise—especially if it comes as a surprise at launch. Or they may feel like they deserve further compensation, which you probably haven’t budgeted for.
  2. Your influencers have more skin in the game if your content is gated. Think about it. If they’re promoting a gated asset to their followings, they’re sending the signal that this content is premium. If at the end of the day they don’t feel it’s worthy of payment, they may not share.

Now, there is a slight caveat to this. If you’ve developed an integrated influencer content campaign with multiple content types, a gated asset may be mixed in there. However, something needs to be left ungated not only to demonstrate value to your target audience, but also to make it easy for influencers to share.

Gate With Care

Gated content absolutely has a place in the digital marketing mix. But you need to be thoughtful and strategic when choosing which assets to gate—otherwise you run the risk of investing time and resources into content that stays mostly hidden.

So, as you ponder whether to gate or not to gate, consider your objectives, market position and industry, current content ecosystem, nurture strategy, and influencer partners. This will help you see the bigger picture, while also enabling you to align your objectives and expectations.

Looking for a way to build and bolster your content marketing strategy? Check out these seven steps for documenting your strategy.

What other factors do you consider when choosing to gate an asset? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

How to Make Effective, High-Quality Marketing Reports & Dashboards

My current obsession has been reporting. Everyone could benefit from paying more attention to it. Five years, countless ciders, and too many conferences into my career, I finally spent some time on it.

Bad reporting soaks up just as much time as pointless meetings. Analysts spend hours creating reports that no one will read, or making dashboards that never get looked it. Bad reporting means people either focus on the wrong goals, or they pick the right goals, but choose the wrong way to measure them. Either way, you end up in the same place.

So I thought I’d share what I’ve learned.

We’re going to split this into:

(We’ll lean on SEO examples — we’re on Moz! — however, for those non-SEO folks, the principles are the same.)

What is the goal of a report versus a dashboard?

Dashboards

Dashboards should:

  • Measure a goal(s) over time
  • Be easily digestible at a glance

The action you take off a dashboard should be:

  • Let’s go look into this.

Example questions a dashboard would answer:

  • How are we performing organically?
  • How fast does our site load?

Reports

Reports should:

  • Help you make a decision

The action you take off a report should be:

  • Making a decision

Example questions a report would answer:

  • Are our product changes hurting organic search?
  • What are the biggest elements slowing our website?

Who is this data for?

This context will inform many of our decisions. We care about our audience, because they all know and care about very different things.

A C-level executive doesn’t care about keyword cannibalization, but probably does care about the overall performance of marketing. An SEO manager, on the other hand, probably does care about the number of pages indexed and keyword cannibalization, but is less bothered by the overall performance of marketing.

Don’t mix audience levels

If someone tells you the report is for audiences with obviously different decision levels, then you’re almost always going to end up creating something that won’t fulfill the goals we talked about above. Split up your reporting into individual reports/dashboards for each audience, or it will be left ignored and unloved.

Find out what your audience cares about

How do you know what your audience will care about? Ask them. As a rough guide, you can assume people typically care about:

  • The goals that their jobs depend on. If your SEO manager is being paid because the business wants to rank for ten specific keywords, then they’re unlikely to care about much else.
  • Budget or people they have control over.

But seriously. Ask them what they care about.

Educating your audience

Asking them is particularly important, because you don’t just need to understand your audience — you may also need to educate them. To go back on myself, there are in fact CEOs who will care about specific keywords.

The problem is, they shouldn’t. And if you can’t convince them to stop caring about that metric, their incentives will be wrong and succeeding in search will be harder. So ask. Persuading them to stop using the wrong metrics is, of course, another article in and of itself.

Get agreement now

To continue that point, now is also the time to get initial agreement that these dashboards/reports will be what’s used to measure performance.

That way, when they email you three months in asking how you’re doing for keyword x, you’re covered.

How to create a good dashboard

Picking a sensible goal for your dashboard

The question you’re answering with a dashboard is usually quite simple. It’s often some version of:

  • Are we being successful at x?

…where x is a general goal, not a metric. The difference here is that a goal is the end result (e.g. a fast website), and the metric (e.g. time to start render) is the way of measuring progress against that.

How to choose good metrics for dashboards

This is the hard part. We’re defining our goal by the metrics we choose to measure it by.

A good metric is typically a direct measure of success. It should ideally have no caveats that are outside your control.

No caveats? Ask yourself how you would explain if the number went down. If you can immediately come up with excuses that could be answered by things out of your control, then you should try to refine this metric. (Don’t worry, there’s an example in the next section.)

We also need to be sure that it will create incentives for how people behave.

Unlike a report, which will be used to help us make a decision, a dashboard is showing the goals we care about. It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one. A report will help you make a single decision. A dashboard and the KPIs it shows will define the decisions and reports you create and the ideas people have. It will set incentives and change how the people working off it behave. Choose carefully. Avinash has my back here; go read his excellent article on choosing KPIs.

You need to bear both of these in mind when choosing metrics. You typically want only one or two metrics per goal to avoid being overwhelming.

Example: Building the spec for our dashboard

Goal: Measure the success of organic performance

Who is it for: SEO manager

The goal we’re measuring and the target audience are sane, so now we need to pick a metric.

We’ll start with a common metric that I often hear suggested and we’ll iterate on it until we’re happy. Our starting place is:

  1. Metric: Search/SEO visibility
    1. “Our search visibility has dropped”: This could be because we were ranking for vanity terms like Facebook and we lost that ranking. Our traffic would be fine, but our visibility would be down. *Not a good metric.
  2. Metric: Organic sessions over time
    1. “Our organic sessions have dropped”: This could easily be because of seasonality. We always see a drop in the summer holidays. *Okay, also not a good metric.
  3. Metric: Organic sessions with smoothed seasonality
    1. Aside: See a good example of this here.
    2. “Our organic sessions with smoothed seasonality have dropped”: What if the industry is in a downturn? *We’re getting somewhere here. But let’s just see…
  4. Metric: Organic sessions with smoothed seasonality and adjusted for industry
    1. “Our organic sessions with smoothed seasonality and adjusted for industry have dropped”: *Now we’ve got a metric that’s getting quite robust. If this number drops, we’re going to care about it.

You might have to compromise your metric depending on resources. What we’ve just talked through is an ideal. Adjusting for industry, for example, is typically quite hard; you might have to settle for showing Google trends for some popular terms on a second graph, or showing Hitwise industry data on another graph.

Watch out if you find yourself adding more than one or two additional metrics. When you get to three or four, information gets difficult to parse at glance.

What about incentives? The metric we settled on will incentivize our team get more traffic, but it doesn’t have any quality control.

We could succeed at our goal by aiming for low-quality traffic, which doesn’t convert or care about our brand. We should consider adding a second metric, perhaps revenue attributed to search with linear attribution, smoothed seasonality, and a 90-day lookback. Or alternatively, organic non-bounce sessions with smoothed seasonality (using adjusted bounce rate).

Both those metrics sound like a bit of a mouthful. That’s because they’ve gone through a process similar to what we talked about above. We might’ve started with revenue attributed to search before, then got more specific and ended up with revenue attributed to search with linear attribution, smoothed seasonality and a 90-day lookback.

Remember, a dashboard shouldn’t try to explain why performance was bad (based on things in your control). A dashboard’s job is to track a goal over time and says whether or not further investigation is needed.

Laying out and styling dashboards

The goal here is to convey our information as quickly and easily as possible. It should be eyeball-able.

Creating a good dashboard layout:

  • It should all fit on a single screen (i.e. don’t scroll on the standard screen that will show the results)
  • People typically read from the top and left. Work out the importance of each graph to the question you’re answering and order them accordingly.
  • The question a graph is answering should be sat near it (usually above it)
  • Your design should keep the focus on the content. Simplify: keep styles and colors unified, where possible.

Here’s a really basic example I mocked up for this post, based on the section above:

  • We picked two crucial summary metrics for organic traffic:
    1. Organic sessions with smoothed seasonality
      • In this case we’ve done a really basic version of “adjusting” for seasonality by just showing year on year!
    2. Revenue attributed to organic sessions
  • We’ve kept the colors clean and unified.
  • We’ve got clean labels and, based on imaginary discussions, we’ve decided to put organic sessions above attributed revenue.

(The sharp-eyed amongst you may notice a small bug. The dates in the x-axis are misaligned by 1 day; this was due to some temporary constraints on my end. Don’t repeat this in your actual report!)

How to create a good report

Picking a sensible decision for your report

A report needs to be able to help us make a decision. Picking the goal for a dashboard is typically quite simple. Choosing the decision our report is helping us make is usually a little more fraught. Most importantly, we need to decide:

  • Is there a decision to be made or are we knowledge-gathering for its own sake?

If you don’t have a decision in mind, if you’re just creating a report to dig into things, then you’re wasting time. Don’t make a report.

If the decision is to prioritize next month, then you could have an investigative report designed to help you prioritize. But the goal of the report isn’t to dig in — it’s to help you make a decision. This is primarily a frame of mind, but I think it’s a crucial one.

Once we’ve settled on the decision, we then:

  • Make a list of all the data that might be relevant to this decision
  • Work down the list and ask the following question for each factor:
    1. What are the odds this piece of information causes me to change my mind?
    2. Could this information be better segmented or grouped to improve?
    3. How long will it take me to add this information to the report?
    4. Is this information for ruling something out or helping me weigh a decision?

Example: Creating a spec for a report

Here’s an example decision a client suggested to me recently:

  • Decision: Do we need to change our focus based on our weekly organic traffic fluctuations?
  • Who’s it for: SEO manager
  • Website: A large e-commerce site

Are we happy with this decision? In this case, I wasn’t. Experience has taught me that SEO very rarely runs week to week; one thing our SEO split-testing platform has taught us time and time again is even obvious improvements can take three to four weeks to result in significant traffic change.

  • New decision: Do we need to change our focus based on our monthly organic traffic fluctuations?

Great — we’re now happy with our decision, so let’s start listing possible factors. For the sake of brevity, I’m only going to include three here:

  • Individual keyword rankings
  • Individual keyword clicks
  • Number of indexed pages

1. Individual keyword rankings

  • What are the odds this piece of information causes me to change my mind?
    • As individual keyword rankings? Pretty low. This is a large website and individual keyword fluctuations aren’t much use; it will take too long to look through and I’ll probably end up ignoring it.
  • Could this information be better segmented or grouped to improve?
    • Yes, absolutely. If we were to group this by page type or topic level, it becomes far more interesting. Knowing my traffic has dropped only for one topic would make me want to go to push more resources to try and bring us back to parity. We would ideally also want to see the difference in rank with and without features.
  • How long will it take me to add this information to the report?
    • There are plenty of rank trackers with this data. It might take some integration time, but the data exists.
  • Is this information for ruling something out or helping me weigh a decision?
    • We’re just generically looking at performance here, so this is helping me weigh up my decision.

Conclusion: Yes, we should include keyword rankings, but they need to be grouped and ideally also have both rank with and without Google features. We’ll also want to avoid averaging rank, to lose subtlety in how our keywords are moving amongst each other. This example graph from STAT illustrates this well:

2. Individual keyword clicks

  • What are the odds this piece of information causes me to change my mind?
    • Low. Particularly because it won’t compensate for seasonality, I would definitely find myself relying more on rank here.
  • Could this information be better segmented or grouped to improve?
    • Again yes, same as above. It would almost certainly need to be grouped.
  • How long will it take me to add this information to the report?
    • This will have to come from Search Console. There will be some integration time again, but the data exists.
  • Is this information for ruling something out or helping me weigh a decision?
    • Again, we’re just generically looking at performance here, so this is helping me weigh up my decision.

Conclusion: I would probably say no. We’re only looking at organic performance here and clicks will be subject to seasonality and industry trends that aren’t related to our organic performance. There are certainly click metrics that will be useful that we haven’t gone over in these examples — this just isn’t one of them.

3. Number of indexed pages

  • What are the odds this piece of information causes me to change my mind?
    • Low, although sharp jumps would definitely be cause for further investigation.
  • Could this information be better segmented or grouped to improve?
    • It could sometimes be broken down into individual sections, using Search Console folders.
  • How long will it take me to add this information to the report?
    • This will have to come from Search Console. It doesn’t exist in the API, however, and will be a hassle to add or will have to be done manually.
  • Is this information for ruling something out or helping me weigh a decision?
    • This is just ruling out, as it’s possible any changes in fluctuation have come from massive index bloat.

Conclusion: Probably yes. The automation will be a pain, but it will be relatively easy to pull it in manually once a month. It won’t change anyone’s mind very often, so it won’t be put at the forefront of a report, but it’s a useful additional piece of information that’s very quick to scan and will help us rule something out.

Laying out and styling reports

Again, our layout should be fit for the goal we’re trying to achieve, which gives us a couple principles to follow:

  • It’s completely fine for reports to be large, as long as they’re ordered by the odds that the decision will change someone’s mind. Complexity is fine as long as it’s accompanied by depth and you don’t get it all at once.
  • On a similar point, you’ll often have to breakdown metrics into multiple graphs. Make sure that you order them by importance so someone can stop digging whenever they’re happy.

Here’s an example from an internal report I made. It shows the page breakdown first and then the page keyword breakdown after it to let you dig deeper.

  • There’s nothing wrong with repeating graphs. If you have a summary page with five following pages, each of which picks one crucial metric from the summary and digs deeper, it’s absolutely useful to repeat the summary graph for that metric at the top.
  • Pick a reporting program which allows paged information, like Google Data Studio, for example. It will force you to break a report into chunks.
  • As with dashboards, your design should keep the focus on the content. Simplify — keep styles and colors unified where possible.

Creating an effective graph

The graphs themselves are crucial elements of a report and dashboard. People have built entire careers out of helping people visualize data on graphs. Rather than reinvent the wheel, the following resources have all helped me avoid the worst when it comes to graphs.

Both #1 and #2 below don’t focus on making things pretty, but rather on the goal of a graph: to let you process data as quickly as possible.

  1. Do’s and Don’ts for Effective Graphs
  2. Karl Broman on How to Display Data Badly
  3. Dark Horse Analytics – Data Looks Better Naked
  4. Additional geek resource: Creating 538-Style Charts with matplotlib

Sometimes (read: nearly always) you’ll be limited by the programs you work in, but it’s good to know the ideal, even if you can’t quite reach it.

What did we learn?

Well, we got to the end of the article and I’ve barely even touched on how to practically make dashboards/reports. Where are the screenshots of the Google Data Studio menus and the step-by-step walkthroughs? Where’s the list of tools? Where’s the explanation on how to use a Google Sheet as a temporary database?

Those are all great questions, but it’s not where the problem lies.

We need to spend more time thinking about the content of reports and what they’re being used for. It’s possible having read this article you’ll come away with the determination to make fewer reports and to trash a whole bunch of your dashboards.

That’s fantastic. Mission accomplished.

There are good tools out there (I quite like Plot.ly and Google Data Studio) which make generating graphs easier, but the problem with many of the dashboards and reports I see isn’t that they’ve used the Excel default colors — it’s that they haven’t spent enough time thinking about the decision the report makes, or picking the ideal metric for a dashboard.

Let’s go out and think more about our reports and dashboards before we even begin making them.

What do you guys think? Has this been other people’s experience? What are the best/worst reports and dashboards you’ve seen and why?

The Guide to Local Sponsorship Marketing – The 2018 Edition

For most Moz readers, local marketing means content, reviews, AdWords, local listings, and of course citations. If you’re a larger brand, you might be doing outdoor, radio, print, and television advertising as well. Today we’re here to humbly submit that local sponsorships remain the most-overlooked and opportunity-rich channel, and they build real local connections for both large brands and small business alike.

This article is the second edition of the ZipSprout team’s guide to local sponsorships. We wrote the first edition in 2016 after a few months of securing local sponsorship campaigns for a handful of clients. Since then, we’ve tripled our client roster and we’ve worked with more than 8,000 local organizations, donating nearly $1,000,000 in local sponsorships to 1,300+ opportunities. Since then we’ve also learned how to build campaigns for local presence.

So we knew the guide was due for a reboot.

One of our most significant learnings of the past two years is the understanding of local sponsorships as a channel in their own right. They can be directed toward local SEO or local marketing campaigns, but sponsorships are their own breed of local connection — and just like content campaigns, local PR campaigns, or review management, local sponsorships have their own set of conventions and best practices.

This article is meant for anyone with an eye toward local sponsorships as a marketing channel. Agencies and enterprise organizations may find it particularly helpful, but we’re big believers in encouraging smaller local businesses to engage in sponsorships too. Get out there and meet your neighbors!


The what & why of local sponsorships

Local events, nonprofits, and associations constitute a disjointed but very real network of opportunities. Unlike other channels, local sponsorships aren’t accessible from a single platform, but we’ve found that many sponsorships share similarities. This makes it possible to develop processes that work for campaigns in any metro area.

Local sponsorships are also a unique channel in that the benefits can range from the digital to the analog: from local links to a booth, from social posts to signage on a soccer field. The common thread is joining the community by partnering with local organizations, but the benefits themselves vary widely.

We’ve identified and track 24 unique benefits of sponsorships related to local marketing:

  1. Ad (full or partial)
  2. Advertising on event app
  3. Blog post featuring sponsor
  4. Booth, tent, or table at event
  5. Event named for sponsor
  6. Guest post on organization blog
  7. Inclusion in press release
  8. Link in email newsletter
  9. Link on website
  10. Logo on event t-shirt or other swag
  11. Logo on signage
  12. Logo or name on website
  13. Media spots (television/radio/newspaper)
  14. Mention in email newsletter
  15. Mention in publicity materials, such as programs & other printed materials
  16. Networking opportunity
  17. Physical thing (building, etc.) named for sponsor
  18. Social media mention
  19. Speaking opportunity at event
  20. Sponsor & sponsor’s employees receive discounts on services/products/events
  21. Sponsor can donate merchandise for goodie bags
  22. Sponsored post (on blog or online magazine)
  23. Tickets to event
  24. Verbal recognition

There are probably more, but in our experience most benefits fall into these core categories. That said, these benefits aren’t necessarily for everyone…

Who shouldn’t do local sponsorships?

1. Don’t do local sponsorships if you need fast turnaround.

Campaigns can take 1–3 months from launch until fulfillment. If you’re in a hurry to see a return, just increase your search ad budget.

2. Don’t do local sponsorships if you’re not okay with the branding component.

Local link building can certainly be measured, as can coupon usage, email addresses gathered for a drawing, etc… But measuring local brand lift still isn’t a perfect art form. Leave pure attribution to digital ads.

3. Don’t do local sponsorships with a “one size fits all” expectation.

The great thing about local events and opportunities is their diversity. While some components can be scaled, others require high touch outreach, more similar to a PR campaign.

Considerations for agencies vs brands in local sponsorship campaigns

Agencies, especially if they’re creating sponsorship campaigns for multiple clients, can cast a wide net and select from the best opportunities that return. Even if a potential partnership isn’t a good fit for a current client, they may work for a client down the road. Brands, on the other hand, need to be a little more goal and mission-focused during prospecting and outreach. If they’re reaching out to organizations that are clearly a bad fit, they’re wasting everyone’s time.

Brands also need to be more careful because they have a consumer-facing image to protect. As with any outreach campaign, there are dos and don’ts and best practices that all should follow (DO be respectful; DON’T over-email), but brands especially have more to lose from an outreach faux pas.


Our process

Outreach

Once we’ve identified local organizations in a given metro area, we recommend reaching out with an email to introduce ourselves and learn more about sponsorship opportunities. In two years, the ZipSprout team has A/B tested 100 different email templates.

With these initial emails, we’re trying to inform without confusing or scaring away potential new partners. Some templates have resulted in local organizations thinking we’re asking them for sponsorship money or that we want to charge them for a service. Oops! A/B tests have helped to find the best wording for clarity and, in turn, response rate.

Here are some of our learnings:

1. Mentioning location matters.

We reached out to almost 1,000 Chicago organizations in the spring of 2017. When we mentioned Chicago in the email, the response rate increased by 20%.

2. Emails sent to organizations who already had sponsorship info on their websites were most successful if the email acknowledged the onsite sponsorship info and asked for confirmation.

These are also our most successful outreach attempts, likely because these organizations are actively looking for sponsors (as signified by having sponsorship info on their site). Further, by demonstrating that we’ve been on their site, we’re signaling a higher level of intent.

3. Whether or not we included an outreacher phone number in email signatures had no effect on response rate.

If anything, response rates were higher for emails with no phone number in signature, at 41% compared with 40.2%.

4. Shorter is better when it comes to outreach emails.

Consider the following two emails:

EMAIL A

Hi [NAME],

I sent an email last week, but in case you missed it, I figured I’d follow up. 🙂

I work to help corporate clients find local sponsorships. We’re an agency that helps our business clients identify and sponsor local organizations like [ORG NAME]. We’re paid by businesses who are looking for local sponsorships.

Often, local organizations are overlooked, so my company, ZipSprout, works for businesses who want to sponsor locally, but aren’t sure who to partner with. To that end, I’d love to learn more about [ORG NAME] and see what sponsorship opportunities you have available. Is there a PDF or list of cost and benefits you can share over email or a phone call?

Thanks,
___

EMAIL B

Hi [NAME],

I sent an email last week, but in case you missed it, I figured I’d follow up. 🙂

I’d love to learn more about [ORG NAME] and see what sponsorships you have available. Is there a PDF or list of cost and benefits you can share over email or a phone call?

Thanks,
___

In an 800-email test, Email B performed 30% better than Email A.

Matchmaking: How can I choose a sponsorship opportunity that fits my brand?

There are many ways to evaluate potential sponsorships.

These are the questions that help us match organizations with clients:

  • Who is your brand targeting (women, senior citizens, family-friendly, dog owners, new parents)?
  • Do you want to tie your brand with a particular cause (eco-friendly, professional associations, awareness foundations, advocacy groups)?
  • Is your campaign based on location? Are you launching your brand in a particular city? A particular zip code?
  • What is your total budget and per-sponsorship range? A top max price or a price range is a useful parameter — and perhaps the most important.

Once the campaign goals are determined, we filter through opportunities based partially on their online presence. We look at Domain Authority, location, website aesthetics, and other sponsors (competitors and non-competitors) in addition to Reach Score (details below).

Further, we review backlinks, organic traffic, and referring domains. We make sure that this nonprofit partnership is not spammy or funky from an SEO perspective and that is a frequently visited website. A small organization may not have all the juicy digital metrics, but by gauging event attendance or measuring organic traffic we can further identify solid prospects that could have been missed otherwise.

We also look at social media presence; event attendance, event dates and how responsive these organizations or event organizers are. Responsiveness, we have learned, is a CRITICAL variable. It can be the determining point of your link going live in 48 hours or less, as opposed to 6+ months from payment.

Reach Score

From a numbers perspective, Domain Authority is a good way to appreciate the value of a website, but it doesn’t tell the whole story when it comes to local marketing. To help fill in the gaps we created Reach Score, which combines virtual measures (like Domain Authority) with social measures (friends/followers) and physical measures (event attendance). The score ranks entities based on their metro area, so we’re not comparing the reach of an organization in Louisville, KY to one in NYC.

As of March 2018, we have about 8,000 organizations with valid Reach Scores across four metro areas — Raleigh/Durham, Boston, Houston, and Chicago. The average Reach Score is 37 out of 100. Of the 34 types of organizations that we track, the most common is Event Venue/Company (average Reach Score of 38), followed by Advocacy Groups (43) and Sports Teams/Clubs/Leagues (22). The types of organizations with the highest Reach Scores are Local Government (64), Museums (63), and Parks and Recreation (55).

Thanks to Reach Score, we’ve found differences between organizations from city to city as well. In Raleigh-Durham, the entities with the highest reach tend to be government-related organizations, such as Chambers of Commerce and Parks & Rec Departments.

In Boston, the highest reach tends to fall to arts organizations, such as music ensembles, as well as professional associations. This score serves as a good reminder that each metro area has a unique community of local organizations. (Read more about our Reach Score findings here.)

Fulfillment

Our campaigns used to take several months to complete, from contract to final sponsorship. Now our average fulfillment rate is 18.7 days, regardless of our project size! Staying (politely) on top of the communication with the nonprofit organizations was the main driver for this improvement.

We find further that the first 48 hours from sending a notification of sponsorship on behalf of your brand are crucial to speedy campaigns. Be ready to award the sponsorship funds in a timely manner and follow up with a phone call or an email, checking in to see if these funds have been received.

It’s okay to ask when can you expect the sponsorship digital benefits to go live and how to streamline the process for any other deliverables needed to complete the sponsorship.

Applying these simple best practices, our team has been able to run a campaign in a week or less.

Two important concepts to remember about the sponsorship channel from the fulfillment perspective:

  1. It’s difficult to fulfill. If your city project involves any more than two or three sponsorships, you’re in for multiple hours of follow ups, reminders, phone calls, etc. There is the desire from most local organizations to honor their sponsors and keep them happy. That said, we’ve learned that keeping the momentum going serves as an important reminder for the nonprofit. This can involve phone call reminders and emails for links to go live and other benefits to come through. Again, be polite and respectful.
  2. It’s SO worth all the effort though! It shows that your brand cares. A sponsorship campaign is a fantastic way to get in front of your target audience in areas that have a special meaning at a personal level. And not in a broad general scope, but locally. Locally sponsoring a beach cleanup in Santa Monica gives you the opportunity to impact a highly localized audience with a very particular cause in mind that would ultimately affect their everyday life, as opposed to partnering with a huge foundation advocating for clean oceans.

Enhancing a local campaign

Some prefer to use local sponsorships as a link building effort, but there are ways — and ample benefit — to going far beyond the link.

Local event attendance

So, so many local sponsorship campaigns come with the opportunity for event attendance. We currently have 11,345 opportunities in our database (62.2% of our total inventory) that feature events: 5Ks, galas, performances, parades, and even a rubber ducky derby or two! If you’re able to send local team members, find opportunities that match your target audience and test it out — and bring your camera so your social and brand team will have material for publication. If local team members aren’t an option, consider working with a notable and ambitious startup such as Field Day, which can send locals out on behalf of your brand. We’ve spoken with them on several occasions and found them adaptable and wonderful to work with.

Coupons/invitations

One client, FunBrands, used local sponsorships as a way to reach out to locals ahead of stores’ grand re-openings (read the full case study here).

For another client, we created unique coupons for each local organization, using print and social media posts for distribution.

An example coupon — use codes to track attribution back to an event.


Conclusion: Local sponsorships are a channel

Sponsorships are an actionable strategy that contribute to your local rankings, while providing unprecedented opportunities for community engagement and neighborly branding. We hope that this updated guide will provide a strong operational overview along with realistic expectations — and even inspirations — for a local sponsorship campaign in your target cities.

Last but not least: As with all outreach campaigns, please remember to be human. Keep in mind that local engagements are the living extension of your brand in the real world. And if somehow this article wasn’t enough, we just finished up The Local Sponsorship Playbook. Every purchase comes with a 30-minute consultation with the author. We hope everyone chooses to get out, get local, and join the community in the channel that truly benefits everyone.

SEO + Paid Search: An Aristotelian Lesson in Search Marketing Integration

Paid and SEO Search Marketing Integration

The first search engine was created in 1990, over two millennia from when Aristotle, the famed Greek philosopher, walked the earth. Having never lived in a world that included a search engine, let alone paper, you might be wondering what advice Aristotle could possibly offer when it comes to search marketing, but one of his most famous quotes offers an invaluable lesson:

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” 

Even in ~330 BC, Aristotle understood that combining two tactics together results in powerful outcomes that are greater than their individual parts.

Adopting this classic teaching to your modern paid search and SEO tactics, means getting more bang for your buck in search marketing. For starters, integrating paid and organic search has been found to increase conversions by 200%, according to Search Engine Watch. If you want to maximize your potential return on your search marketing efforts, they need to work together.

At TopRank Marketing, we believe integration makes the digital marketing world go round, bringing balance and harmony to your digital marketing efforts. To help you weave your paid search and SEO tactics together, we asked TopRank Marketing’s own search marketing philosophers, Joe Manier and Steve Slater, to share their advice and insights.

A Complementary Pair

Since we’re being philosophical and metaphorical, paid search and SEO are the pizza and beer pairing of digital marketing. They’re both awesome in their own right, but in coming together, they give you a more satisfying meal.

With “search” in the name of both tactics, you might already have an indication of why they make such a great pair. But in case you didn’t know, Joe and Steve give their reasons why they complement each other so well.

“SEO and paid search are two ways of coming at the same goal of getting clicks from searchers you care about,” is how Joe explains it.

For example, both tactics aim to earn high visibility in search results for target keywords. In order to reach that goal however, they utilize different strategies and techniques, allowing you to cover more ground in search results.

“SEO is not a promotional strategy. When you need to get eyeballs to a webpage, SEO can take time and the results come slowly. But when you turn on a paid search campaign, you instantly get traffic to your web page. Using the two together leads to instant impact and long-term results,” Steve says.

Not only do paid search and SEO go after similar goals, but they do it in two different ways, opening up the possibility of increasing your results exponentially.

Paid search & #SEO are the pizza & beer pairing of #DigitalMarketing. They’re both awesome in their own right, but in coming together, they give you a more satisfying meal. – @aleuman4 Click To Tweet

4 Lessons from Our Own Search Marketing Philosophers

To bring the two tactics together and get those high-flying results that Aristotle mentions, you need to use paid search to influence SEO and vice versa to create a truly synergistic relationship. To help you create that relationship, this is the advice that Joe and Steve have to offer.

#1 – Use paid search to test your hypothesis.

Because paid search is a way to “cheat” your way into a top ranking, you can actually glean a lot of insights from your search ads. Taking up the top four spots, ads receive a lot of impressions on search engine results pages (SERPs), giving you valuable information on what attracts clicks or conversions and what doesn’t.

“I use paid search as a testing method for what content resonates with searchers. After a campaign has run, I can see what messages led to higher click-through rates (CTR) with each of our target audiences. Then, I apply those insights to title tags and meta descriptions on high impression keywords or pages to boost organic CTR,” Joe says.

And by naming your campaigns strategically, you can immediately see what types of messaging perform well. For example, Joe has found success with solution-based ad messages, earning a great number of clicks and conversions. Knowing this, he can then insert more solution-based messages into organic meta content to try and replicate those same results.

Using the same principle, paid search could be a faster method for A/B testing any meta description or title tag changes as it doesn’t require that you actually update your website.

Use paid search as a testing method for what content resonates with searchers. – @joemanier #SearchMarketing Click To Tweet

#2 – Take stock of conversions and the competition.

Paid search campaign data isn’t only good for meta content, it’s also great for assessing the keywords you want to target.

“If you want to know exactly what keywords lead to a conversion, you can run a paid search campaign and pretty easily start to fill in the blanks,” Steve explains.

In this scenario, you can look at the results of your paid campaign in Google AdWords (see below) to determine which keyword bids led to conversions. Those top converting keywords can then serve as focus areas for your SEO efforts.

Keyword Results from Google AdWords

In addition, AdWords data can help you identify which keywords are more difficult to go after. If you notice that a target keyword has a high average cost per click (CPC), it’s safe to assume that there’s a lot of competition driving the bids up. Given this information, you may want to adjust your optimization efforts towards lower-difficulty keywords that you have a better chance of ranking for.

#3 – Form your paid strategy based on current rankings.

We’ve shared how paid can influence your SEO strategy, but what about the other way around?

Well, if you have a keyword glossary, Joe likes to use it to divvy up which keywords are ideal for SEO and which are better to go after with paid search.

“I like to combine newly finished keyword research with ranking reports from the get-go as it gives instant visibility into how we’re doing organically. Then, I sort the keywords based on if they’d be a better fit for SEO (such as long-tail question keywords) or paid search (keywords where we stand little chance of seeing organic wins in the near-term),” Joe offers.

In analyzing the different type of keywords you rank for, you can more easily identify keywords you should bid on in your paid search campaigns.

If you’re hoping to improve those organic rankings, however, you shouldn’t rely on your paid campaigns to move the needle.

“One thing you should not expect when it comes to running paid search and SEO together is even better rankings. Turning on paid search is not going to improve organic rankings,” Steve warns.

To improve organic rankings, it’s best to stick to alternative methods like on-page optimization around target keywords, internal cross-linking, or additional content.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that #PaidSearch will move organic rankings. – @TheSteve_Slater #SearchMarketing Click To Tweet

#4 – Adopt an SEO philosophy when structuring paid search campaigns.

Using an SEO mindset when structuring a paid search campaign is another method that can be very beneficial. For example, tapping into SEO knowledge can help you earn higher quality scores for your AdWords campaigns.

“The quality score largely determines how a keyword performs in your AdWords campaign. The quality score is calculated by factoring in expected CTR, ad relevance, and landing page experience. When you think like an SEO it’s pretty easy to break these elements down.

“As an SEO, you understand how bots interpret a page and search intent, helping you craft relevant ad copy and an easy-to-use landing page experience that increases CTR and your quality score,” Steve says.

According to Google, ads with “higher quality scores typically lead to lower costs and better ad positions.” Increasing your score means optimizing your ads for increased visibility and clicks while lowering your CPC.

Tapping into #SEO knowledge can help you earn higher quality scores for your #AdWords campaigns. #SearchMarketing Click To Tweet

A Timeless Lesson With Infinite Possibilities

Aristotle was onto something all the way back in ~330 BC and his advice is still relevant today.

While paid search and SEO can stand on their own and increase your search marketing results, if they’re paired together correctly, they can increase your CTR, boost impressions, and expand your keyword umbrella even further.

But that’s not the only opportunity for you to integrate your marketing strategies to drive incredible results. Find out how social media and SEO make an unlikely, yet beneficial pairing.