5 Unheralded SEO Tools for Content Marketers

Smiling businesswoman at computer image.

Are you using the latest search engine optimization (SEO) tools to help with your content marketing efforts?

Don’t worry, as we’ve got you covered with a look at some of the most helpful SEO tools to help you refine and augment your content marketing plans.

Sorting through lists of the seemingly endless number of available SEO tools can be frustrating as well as a hit and miss proposition, however we’ve put this collection together so that you can skip the search and get right into SEO tools you can use today to help you create amazing content marketing stories.

Let’s jump in with our collection of fresh SEO tools to boost your content marketing experiences.

1 — Google Lighthouse

Google Lighthouse

Google’s own Lighthouse tool — an open-source project — offers a simple way to check a number of basic SEO-related issues that every website should consider. Among its auditing functions are tools specifically focusing on performance, SEO, accessibility, and progressive web apps, and it’s also capable of examining webpages requiring authentication.

The tool can be run standalone, from the web, in Google’s Chrome DevTools, or incorporated into continuous integration systems, and its Lighthouse Viewer allows viewing and sharing of analysis data online.

2 — Botify SEO Platform

Botify

There are numerous powerful SEO platforms that each look to be as close to a one-stop-shop as possible for marketers and brands to gain reliable and relevant search insight, and squarely in this category is enterprise SEO suite company Botify.

Botify offers a vast array of SEO analysis, data crawling intelligence and indexing metrics tools, all while working to make this complex information both easy to understand and act on, as Google’s Martin Splitt recently touched on in a live video conversation.

3 — Bing URL Submissions Plugin for WordPress

Bing

B2B marketers in WordPress environments recently got access to an open-source plug-in from Bing Webmaster Tools, automating the submission of new site content to the Microsoft’s Bing search engine.

Bing URL Submissions Plugin in a feature-rich plug-in that can also be customized via Bing’s API for incorporation into other content management systems.

4 — Schema.org

Schema

Google and other search engine firms prefer that businesses use schema markup for structured data in the format set forth and maintained by the Schema.org organization, which is especially important today as features including Google’s Knowledge Graphs rely in part on this simple yet often-overlooked element, as Michal Pecánek recently examined for Ahrefs.

5 — WebPagetest

WebPagetest

Another free tool frequently used by savvy search industry professionals is WebPagetest, allowing webmasters and technically-proficient marketers to run a variety of tests including content type breakdowns, page speed data and others providing helpful information.

The data from WebPagetest can be used to troubleshoot website slowness issues, as Barry Schwartz recently outlined in “Google: How To Diagnose Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) Slowness.”

Smart SEO Tools To Make You A Knowledge Builder

via GIPHY

We hope you’ve found at least a few new-to-you SEO content marketing tools among those we’ve taken a look at here, and that you’ll find them useful as you create new campaigns that are using the soundest practices of SEO, and that they’ll also help build your own team’s knowledge.

We have a multi-year history of highlighting helpful marketing tools, and here are a few of the other most recent articles we’ve published on the subject:

How Authentic Content Builds Brand Trust in Uncertain Times

Man Interacting via Virtual Meeting

These are strange times indeed.

As I write this, I’m sitting in my home office, because my employer – like so many others across the country and world – is doing what it can to help stop the spread of COVID-19. This is the type of event that casts new light on just about everything, including the topic I’d planned to tackle today.

No business wants to act or appear opportunistic right now. That goes without saying. But the truth is that marketers, brands, and creators of all kinds can make a positive difference. Being legitimately and authentically helpful in a moment like this can have a lasting impact.

With personal interactions and physical proximity being minimized, people will turn to the web more than ever for trusted sources of information and meaningful content experiences. It’s worth thinking about what role you and your brand can play.

The Show Must Go On

As I mentioned in one of my earliest blog contributions after joining TopRank Marketing, I have a side hobby outside of my career in marketing: running a Minnesota Twins baseball community site. With this passion playing such a big role in my life, it goes without saying that I’m feeling affected by the sudden and indefinite absence of baseball, at a time where the sport’s lengthy season is normally just getting underway.

Empty Stadium Seats Image

(Image Source: Peter Feghali, Unsplash)

I recognize, of course, that in the grand scheme of all that’s happening, this is small potatoes. It’s a game. But it’s also a source of comfort and routine for me and so many others. And the bottom line is that while Major League Baseball’s schedule will not proceed, life will. And this applies more broadly to businesses and content creators across the spectrum.

As our CEO Lee Odden wrote recently with regards to marketing during the COVID-19 pandemic, “the need for information and solutions might slow or change but not stop.”

Let’s explore how brands can go all-in on authenticity to strengthen bonds during a time of universal uncertainty and anxiety.

“Marketers, brands, and creators of all kinds can make a positive difference. Being legitimately and authentically helpful in a moment like this can have a lasting impact.” @NickNelsonMN Click To Tweet

Building Trust through Authentic and Altruistic Content

Content marketing is inherently a long game, focused on building relationships first and foremost. Right now, the best way to pursue this goal is through authenticity and altruism, in the context of your business and its audience.

Keep Your Audience Informed

The ongoing pandemic affects different industries and verticals in different ways. If there’s a white space for providing news and updates in the niche you serve specifically, you might consider filling it. Curate news from authoritative sources (like the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and make it available in an easily accessible place.

This is also a great time to provide helpful guidance around adjustments and adaptations being made in response to this situation. For example, our clients at Antea Group leveraged their expertise on the subject of employee health and safety to provide ergonomic tips for a home office. Another client, LinkedIn Sales Solutions, served up advice on staying connected digitally when “in-person” is not an option.

Be Open and Human

We talk about authenticity in B2B marketing frequently because it’s so vital for practitioners to constantly remind themselves that we’re not interacting with businesses, we’re interacting with human beings. COVID-19 presents a universally shared human experience on a scale that is unmatched in many of our lifetimes.

There’s never been a better time to open up and share real, relatable stories. Everyone is going through something, and it can be comforting to learn how others are dealing with the unique circumstances brought on by this scenario.

Focus on Connection

Thanks to technology, distancing doesn’t need to equate to isolation. People are likely to be yearning for social connection in a major way. The simplest thing a company can do is place an emphasis on being accessible and responsive via social media, email, and other channels. But you also might consider finding ways to replicate the dynamic of personal interactions. For example:

  • Webinars & Live-Streaming: It can sometimes be difficult to draw big crowds of busy professionals for a live broadcast, but at a time where traveling and in-person meetings are reduced, there are more openings on calendars. Running a webcast with a theme that’s relevant to the current times might hit a sweet spot.
  • Virtual Networking Events: With so many major conferences and summits being canceled, there’s still a need for people to network and grow. This may present an opportunity to host or participate in online gatherings and meet-ups. One thing worth considering is a virtual happy hour, where people flip on their laptop camera, crack open a beverage, and enjoy a genuine chat from their own respective locations.

“At a time where traveling and in-person meetings are reduced, there are more openings on calendars. Running a webcast with a theme that’s relevant to the current times might hit a sweet spot.” @NickNelsonMN Click To Tweet

Stick to Your Strategy

Understandably, it can be weird to think about selling at this moment. Pushing products and services – especially those that might be deemed “non-essential” in the face of a global health crisis – feels tone-deaf at a time where everyone’s attention is pulled toward the headlines. I get it.

But here’s the unavoidable truth: This ordeal isn’t going away anytime soon. Life will be different for a while, and as we acclimate to a new norm, the drumbeat of business will regain its steady rhythm in most spaces. So it’s important to keep a holistic, integrated, full-funnel strategy in place, even if you’re lessening the conversion emphasis temporarily.

One thing many companies will want to ponder is how they can make it easier to digitally purchase and transact.

Into Unknown Territory

There is no playbook for this. Every person, family, and business is treading new ground. But we’re all going through it together and that’s why it is more valuable than ever to let our authenticity shine through.

“The friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most. I can better trust those who helped to relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are ready to enjoy with me the sunshine of prosperity.”Ulysses S. Grant

The B2B Marketer’s Journey To Experiential Content at #B2BMX

Ryan Brown Ceros

What makes an experience an…

B2B Marketing Experience?

Full disclosure: I am not on the design team at TopRank Marketing.

But you know what I mean. You’ve eaten dinner at dozens, if not hundreds of restaurants in your lifetime. But there are likely one or two that stick out in your memory. What makes them memorable?

That question drove an intriguing presentation at B2B Marketing Exchange, led by four expert marketers:

B2B Content Experience Team

Short answer: What makes experiences different and memorable is if they’re really good… or really bad. Anything in the middle tends to blur together in our recollection. Only the extremes stand out.

“What makes experiences different and memorable is if they’re really good… or really bad. Anything in the middle tends to blur together in our recollection. Only the extremes stand out.” @NiteWrites Click To Tweet

Case in point: The vast majority of B2B content. It’s…fine! But maybe not so memorable. 

The Five Levels of Memorable Content

Ryan observed that, when a B2B business has customers or clients in the office, we offer amazing experiences: Everything from go-kart rides to monogrammed socks. 

So why do we offer blocks of black-and-white text in a PDF to our digital customers? Not only does our static content fail to be memorable, it isn’t measurable, either. Interactive, immersive content can provide a better experience and help marketers optimize at the same time. 

According to Ryan, there are five levels of “memorability” for great content:

  1. Narrative. This is text content at its most elemental: ad copy, blog posts, stories, scripts.
  1. Visual Elements. Images, graphics, photos and videos liven up the text, but are still static assets on the page.
  1. Integrated elements. Forms, maps, chat, embedded content. This level pulls in multiple different types of content from external sources, like a lead gen form or a Google map.
  1. Interactive Elements. This type of content solicits and rewards active engagement, versus passive consumption. It can include content you click, touch, or hover over to open content paths and customize the experience.
  1. Immersive Elements. This type of content comes alive as the audience moves through it, with animation, actions triggered on scroll and click, parallax effects to give depth, and multiple layers of content.

Most B2B marketers are proficient in the first two levels, and many are getting comfortable with the third. But truly interactive and immersive experiences aren’t as common.

Barriers to Immersive Content

Workflow

According to Ryan, one reason we get stuck with same-old content is the workflow between teams. Typically, content teams create the copy and hand it off to design. The design team isn’t consulted in the planning or execution of the copy. 

Then, the design team takes the copy and goes through the design process in their silo. There’s no collaboration; it’s content + design. 

To fix that workflow, Bluecore’s Paige and Sharon recommend that content and design teams work together, from planning to execution to optimization, in order to:

  • Engage early
  • Partner on content development
  • Frequently sync on milestones

To illustrate how their process leads to more engaging experiences, Paige and Shannon showed off their Content Concierge, an interactive recommendation engine for their content library.

Versus their static content, Bluecore’s Content Concierge achieved a 93% higher interaction rate, and 80% more dwell time.

Tools

The other major roadblock for interactive experiences is the tools marketers use to create content. These tools tend to reinforce the divide between content and design, Ryan says. More complex multimedia experiences also require a third cook in the kitchen: A web development team or vendor partner.

The solution is to seek out tools that empower content and design to work together on interactive, immersive experiences.

Darius from Carbon Black shared how his team used Ceros to design different types of experiences for their customers. They created a choose-your-own-adventure style game for an immersive, long-form experience. But they also created a snackable March Madness-inspired tournament game that people could play in under a minute.

Memorable & Measurable Experiences

According to Ryan, downloadable assets — like a typical white paper — miss the opportunity to provide a memorable experience. What’s worse, they’re not measurable once downloaded. Did the downloader make it past the front page? Was there an infographic that really hit with your target audience? It’s impossible to tell. 

With the right type of interactive content, you can be a fly on the wall as people go through the experience. You can tell where people are clicking, how deep they’re scrolling, and when they’re likely to drop off. That means more opportunities to optimize and engage more deeply. 

Darius encouraged marketers to invest their time and energy in creating and optimizing these memorable experiences. “If we’re not putting the time in with our customers, we can’t expect them to give us their time back,” he said.

“If we’re not putting the time in with our customers, we can’t expect them to give us their time back.” — Darius Eslami, Carbon Black Click To Tweet

Getting Started with Experiential Content

Creating memorable content experiences requires a shift in mindset and operations. Making the change can be tricky, Sharon and Paige warned. They offered a three-step approach to getting started:

  1. Create a business case to get buy-in
  2. Do a proof of concept — have a clear outline, objectives and measurable goals.
  3. Prioritize where you will get the most impact 

That last point is crucial, Sharon said. Without a clear set of priorities, you can get option paralysis with the possibilities. Or, as she put it, “It’s like going to the Cheesecake Factory hungry and trying to navigate that massive menu.”

Be the Architect of Your Brand

Ryan ended the session on an aspirational note. He reminds marketers that we are responsible for designing the ways that customers encounter and perceive our brands. “Take pride in the experiences you create,” he said. “Stop ‘writing at’ your customer, and start ‘creating for’ them.”

Dynamic, interactive, immersive content is more engaging for customers, gets better results for marketers, and can even lead to quicker sales and more revenue for the company. It’s well worth making your content experience into an…

Experience in glitter text

See how interactive content made for a memorable experience that smashed benchmarks for our client Prophix.

5 Ways to Humanize B2B Content Marketing

Humanizing B2B Content Father and Son Cooking Together Image

“You’ve really got to put yourself out there. Don’t be too stiff.”

“Be honest and sincere!”

“Be vulnerable and relatable… and it doesn’t hurt if you can make ‘em laugh.”

Is this advice for a middle-aged man trying online dating for the first time? Or is it advice for B2B marketers?

Given the proximity to Valentine’s Day, can’t it be both?

The point is, as good as this advice may be for marketers, it’s as vague as it is omnipresent. We talk about “person-to-person” marketing and “humanizing the brand.” But what does it really mean to humanize a brand? 

Michelin Men Original Costumes

Yes, these were the original Michelin Tire mascots.

In some cases, apparently, it means high-octane nightmare fuel. So, maybe don’t try and make an adorable mascot for your software-as-a-service solution.

Here are some better ways to “humanize” your B2B content.

5 Ways to Humanize B2B Content Marketing

It can be hard to bring out the humanity in B2B content, especially when your product is intangible. Not many folks feel a warm sense of empathy with a cloud-based data solution. You can’t take adorable Instagram photos of happy customers cuddling with your supply chain logistics platform. That just means that B2B content marketers have to be more creative than even our B2C counterparts. 

Get Real about Personalization

We all know there’s a fine line between being personal and being overly familiar. But we have to find that sweet spot between, “Hi, [firstname]” and “Hey Bob Johnson, 42, who ate a hamburger for lunch, how was your recent prostate exam?”

For B2B marketers, think more about smarter segmentation and less about personalizing on the individual level. As Ardath Albee (persona expert extraordinaire) puts it, “In B2B, we don’t need to know their shoe size and we don’t need to talk about their gender. We don’t need to know they live in the suburbs and have a wife, two kids, and a dog, and they drive a red Corvette.”

What we do need to know are the general challenges and aspirations people with a specific job title in a specific industry might have in common. Then we can customize content to suit their job-related needs — even the ones that don’t relate directly to the product. 

Find the Emotional Core

It’s hard to imagine someone getting emotional about a B2B product — jumping up and down with excitement, wiping away tears, or eagerly unboxing the latest model. For B2C, the product itself might inspire these emotions. For B2B, the emotion comes in at a different angle.

It’s not about the solution itself — the emotion comes from what the solution can do. For example, the product may be a software solution that enables automation. The emotion comes from an employee who is able to finally leave work on time to be at home with their family. 

Or it’s the thrill of earning a promotion with the help of a new analytics tool. Or the intertwined hope and anxiety of starting your own business, using a web hosting platform to launch your first site. 

“Find the emotional stories that your solution makes possible, and make them the star of your content.” @Nitewrites Click To Tweet

Design a Content Experience

We know that valuable, best-answer content is the minimum for reaching an audience. That’s the new table stakes. 

But B2B marketers are frequently accustomed to no-frills, straightforward presentation for all that thoughtful content. It’s called a white paper, after all, not a plaid paper. But when we’re thoughtful about the content experience, we can show off the brand’s creativity and personality, while at the same time showing respect for the audience.

Think about turning a long-scrolling asset into a beautiful and unique interactive experience. Or that series of interview posts into a long-form video series. Content experience is all about telling your audience, “Hey, we know that people need to be entertained. We’re people, too! So we made this not only useful, but also beautiful to look at and fun to play around with.” 

Earn Trust By Asking for Help

I know, it’s tempting to present your brand as the alpha and omega, be-all and end-all source of all knowledge. If your wisdom isn’t absolute, why would people trust you as an authority? But the truth is, humility builds credibility more than the most dazzling display of knowledge does. 

It’s called the Ben Franklin effect: When you help someone, you tend to like them — even more than if they helped you. So, give your audience an opportunity to help you out.

 Ask questions that you genuinely want to hear answers to. Engage with their responses, ask more, let their expertise drive an ongoing conversation. This type of engagement accomplishes multiple goals:

  • Your audience gets to show off their expertise
  • Even those who don’t participate can now see themselves in your content
  • Your brand becomes relatable and interactive
  • You might actually learn something that can drive your next big idea

Involve More Actual Humans in Content

Brands don’t create content; people do. But frequently we hide the human content creators behind the monolith of the brand. If we’re trying to connect with people on a personal level, we’ve got to let the people shine through.

That means giving employees and executives alike a voice in your content. But don’t stop there: Feature your customers and prospects, too. 

Think about including influencers in your content as well, and not just as a one-off. Yet another of the endless perks of influencer marketing is that humanization of your brand. Influencers add credibility and prestige to content, but don’t overlook how they add personality, humor, and humanity, too.

Embrace Your Human Side

As a creative writer with a weird sense of humor, I’m incredibly lucky to be in marketing right now. Just a decade ago, B2B marketing would have driven me insane by my third dry-as-dust eBook. There’s only so many times you can write about “utilizing and leveraging synergy” in third-person passive voice before the gears start to slip.

Fortunately, B2B content marketing has finally caught up with B2C in terms of creativity, emotional import, and essential humanity. We have “permission” to do it right — so what are we waiting for?

Humanize your brand with some great influencer content this year: Here are 25 ideas to get you started.

Break Free B2B Series: Emily Thompson on the Power of Content Marketing in Health Care

Break Free B2B Interview with Emily Thompson

Trust is the linchpin of modern marketing. It plays a crucial role in every vertical, industry, or niche. But nowhere is trust a more essential crux than in health care, where the personal stakes are immense.

“We’re in an industry where, you know, it’s serious,” says Emily Thompson in her interview for Break Free B2B. “This is about people’s health and well being, and a lot of times people get very nervous — they’re scared, they’re sick.”

As a Boston-based freelance writer and content strategist who primarily focuses on the health care sector, where she has worked with a wide variety of clients ranging from startups to enterprise, Emily acutely understands the impactful nuances of messaging. She says seeing things from the other side — as a first-time mother who frequently sought information online — helped her develop a more empathetic view.

She incorporates this into her craft, creating patient-focused copy designed to build trust and confidence, and offers valuable insight for B2B marketers everywhere. In the interview, she shares some tactics and techniques that are being used effectively in her industry to achieve this rapport, from smartphone apps to user-generated content to data-driven personalization and beyond. 

Research says that 93 million Americans have searched for a health-related topic online. So If we know people are going online, we have to be there too. @BosCreativeCopy #HealthcareMarketing #BreakFreeB2B Click To Tweet

Watch my conversation with Emily below, and let her experiences and perspectives help guide you toward building healthier relationships with your B2B customers. 

Break Free B2B Interview with Emily Thompson

If you’re interested in checking out a particular portion of the discussion, you can find a quick general outline below, as well as a few excerpts that stood out to us.

  • 03:46 – The emerging focus of content marketing in health care
  • 07:05 – Big data in health care marketing
  • 09:42 – Responsible data usage and personalization in health care marketing
  • 12:35 – Leveraging traditional and emerging channels in health care marketing
  • 13:42 – Counterproductive mindsets in health care marketing
  • 16:14 – User generated content in health care
  • 19:55 – Challenges that span across industries
  • 22:17 – Rising demands from patients for digital 24/7 access

Nick: Can content marketing build trust in the patient care continuum?

Emily: That’s really what, to me, content marketing is all about. It’s building trust with the consumer, whether that’s a patient or a referring physician. And, I think that … when an organization can deliver strong content that helps inform people, it only builds that trust. And if you think about the patients that are watching, often they’re frightened, they’re overwhelmed, they don’t know where to go. And so there’s just a lot of opportunity in health care for marketers to really rely on content to help them build that trust.

When an organization can deliver strong content that helps inform people, it only builds that trust. @BosCreativeCopy #BreakFreeB2B #ContentMarketing #healthcare

Nick: Transparency is key in managing health care data. How else can marketers benefit the health care system? 

Emily: I think it comes down to messaging too, and if you make sure that your content is ultimately really helpful to the consumer. So, for example, I was on these apps [after giving birth to my son], and I was being served up a toy that might work for my son in his age and developmentally where he was at. Or food — we were struggling with a type of formula or milk that would be good for him. 

Ultimately, people just want information that’s helpful to them. It helps calm them down whether they’re nervous about their health information or they’re, you know, a new mom. It’s hard to be frustrated when an app is using information about myself that is ultimately benefiting me, helping me out.

Nick: Is there anything that stands out to you as a real opportunity for marketers, and specifically those who are working in the B2B space, to break free of something that might be inhibiting them?

Emily: Yeah. Break free from fear. I think that health care can be a very conservative market. And, you know, to be fair, there are reasons for that. We’re in an industry where, you know, it’s serious. This is about people’s health and well being, and a lot of times people get very nervous — they’re scared, they’re sick.

But I think that isn’t a reason to hold back from trying new things. I think that especially with digital, it’s very easy today to try a new type of message, or a new type of way of communicating to someone. Let’s say you never blogged before, why not try a blog? Let’s say you never did email marketing, why not try it? Or a new type of message? 

The worst that can happen is you measure it, you learn from it, and you try something new. I think that often, as health care marketers, we can get stuck in the same way of doing things. And, a lot of times it’s a little too safe.

As health care marketers, we can get stuck in the same way of doing things. The worst that can happen is you measure it, you learn from it, and you try something new. @BosCreativeCopy #BreakFreeB2B #ContentMarketing #healthcare Click To Tweet

Stay tuned to the TopRank Marketing Blog and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more Break Free B2B interviews. Here are a few interviews to whet your appetite:

If you’re hungry for more insight and advice on the state of trust in marketing, check out our Trust Factors series:

Break Free B2B Series: Adi Bachar-Reske on Taking the Lead in the Evolution of B2B Content Marketing

Break Free B2B Interview with Adi Bachar-Reske

Marketing leaders are at the forefront of a seismic transformation that continues to play out as we enter a new decade. 

Organizational dynamics are realigning. Power balances are shifting. Trust – both internal and external – is emerging as the most essential crux in business success. For people like Adi Bachar-Reske, it’s an exhilarating time to be leading the charge.

Her history in marketing dates back multiple decades, so she’s been helping shape this evolution. “Twenty years ago, everybody’s in a suit. I was the only woman in the room, always,” she says. “It has changed a lot.”

Today, she finds that she no longer tends to be the only woman in the room (though the balance is still a ways from where it needs to be), and that’s far from the only change she’s observed in her marketing leadership positions — most recently at Provenir, where she served as Vice President of Marketing before moving into a solo consulting role late last year. 

Much of her experience, including at Provenir, has come in the financial technology (FinTech) space, so during my interview with her for the Break Free B2B series, we zeroed in on some key topics tied to the vertical: proving the revenue impact of marketing, staying on top of content consumption trends, and building trust with customers when sensitive data is in play. 

Break Free B2B Interview with Adi Bachar-Reske

If you’re interested in checking out a particular portion of the discussion, you can find a quick general outline below, as well as a few excerpts that stood out to us.

  • 1:00 — Introduction to Adi
  • 2:00 — Provenir’s marketing philosophies
  • 4:00 — How are content consumption trends changing?
  • 10:30 — Building trust in the financial industry
  • 13:15 — How technology helps with personalization and trust
  • 16:00 — Building trust in marketing internally
  • 18:45 Which types of content help sales most?
  • 22:00 How can B2B marketers break free?
  • 24:00 How to balance taking risks with playing it safe

Nick: What are you seeing from your end in terms of shifting content consumption trends and shortening attention spans?

Adi: I find that myself, I don’t read books anymore, my eyes get really tired and I just don’t have the time to sit down and actually read, but what I do do, I got addicted to Audible right? So I walk through a long airport, or I sit down and wait for my daughter to finish her guitar lesson, and I’ll just put it in my ears. I read at least two books a month that way and I love it because of the way Audible, they’ve changed too right? 

So you’ve got the authors now reading the story. It’s a bit like a TED Talk that lasts for a few hours, which is brilliant. And the same for blogs. Blogs were the big thing a few years ago, but again, we don’t have time to read, so we did this test here. We took some of the blogs and we kind of condensed them, shrank them up into a one-minute video. It was the same content, but obviously a lot less. And we captured the essence of it, and the engagement was just phenomenal. I think we’re all very curious people in the same way we were 10 or 20 years ago, we just consume information differently.

I think we’re all very curious people in the same way we were 10 or 20 years ago, we just consume information differently. @AdiBacharReske #ContentConsumption #BreakFreeB2B Click To Tweet

Nick: Being in the finance industry, I have to imagine that trust, data security, privacy, those are big issues. What are you seeing from your perspective as far as the condition of trust between customers and brands

Adi: Years ago the saying was, nobody’s going to lose their job for choosing IBM. If you were a big brand, you were safe, and the financial institution had an immediate trust in you. Easy peasy. But if you were a small brand then it was difficult to get in. They didn’t trust you. You were just small, maybe you’ll disappear tomorrow. It’s funny, things have changed. 

I speak to my customers, large institutions and small institutions, all the time and I ask them: why did you choose us? We’re not a big player, we’re not an IBM. In the past year or so, the answer I get is kind of surprising. They say, we chose you because you are small. We chose you because we wanted to work with somebody who’s nimble, who can work with us, who can focus on us, because all these large businesses, you know they have other things to worry about. They may not focus on us, they may not sit down, listen to what we need, build something special for us … 

So these days, the way you build the trust is showing how nimble and flexible you can be. Both in your development and your product, but also it has to be reflected in your marketing and your digital presence. You have to look accessible, you have to look open.

These days, the way you build trust is showing how nimble and flexible you can be. Both in your development and your product, but also it has to be reflected in your marketing and your digital presence. @AdiBacharReske #BreakFreeB2B Click To Tweet

Nick: As a marketing leader who regularly interfaces with other leadership in the company, what are your strategies for building trust internally, across departments?

Adi: Numbers, numbers, numbers. So again, I’ve been around for a long time and marketers used to be the first one — when the quota hasn’t been met or something happened like that — the marketers were the first people out the door. Why? Because we couldn’t really show any numbers. 

You know, we spend all that money on an event, or we spend all that money on a beautiful site … What did it do for us? What did we get back for it? Nothing, nobody knows really. I mean there were anecdotes here and there but we don’t really know. So over the years they created all these beautiful technologies that help us measure that, and it’s up to us to create the KPIs that ensure the bottom line. 

So my strategy from day one was to show the bottom line. We spent X, and therefore as a result we had Y inbound leads that turned into whatever converted and whatever closed … With management, the way I grew my team is, I was able to show the numbers and how they grew, and with that I got more investment, and I was able to show more and more and more.

Stay tuned to the TopRank Marketing Blog and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more Break Free B2B interviews. Here are a few interviews to whet your appetite:

5 Old Habits B2B Marketers Should Leave Behind in the 2010s

Old Habits B2B Marketers Should Leave Behind in the 2010s

New decade, who dis?

We’ve officially turned the calendar to 201… er, 2020! First the first time in 10 years, we’ll all be writing a different numeral as that third digit. That’s a new habit that’ll take some getting used to. 

As B2B marketers, perhaps we can take advantage of this opportunity to form a few other new habits. Specifically, I’m talking about making adjustments to the way we approach our craft, so to align ourselves with the evolved marketplace of the 2020s. 

The New Year is always a fitting time for resolutions and aspirational goal-setting. With this particularly momentous milestone, I’m urging all my B2B marketing peers to think big and commit to some major shifts in mindset for the decade ahead.

These five habits ought to be left in the 2010s along with fidget spinners and the Mannequin Challenge.

5 Habits for B2B Marketers to Leave Behind in the 2010s

#1. The Desktop Mentality

Chances are, you spend your days creating content or managing campaigns on a desktop computer or laptop. As such, it’s all too easy to assume your audience will consume it in the same way. But, chances are, they won’t. 

The explosion of mobile usage has been among the most unmistakable sea changes of the past decade. In 2010, the iPhone was still a relatively new product and mobile accounted for 2.9% of all web site traffic. By 2018, that figure was up to 52.2%. Smartphone ownership rose from 35% in 2011 to 81% in 2019. Mobile overtook desktop in 2016 and there’s been no looking back. 

Despite this, I still routinely encounter websites, landing pages, and content experiences that look great on desktop and clunky on a smartphone or tablet. Too often, mobile is an afterthought. Instead, it should be our first thought. Bringing a mobile-first mindset into the 2020s will position marketers to be on the same page as the people they’re trying to reach.

What To Do: Scrutinize your most critical existing content assets — visuals, responsiveness, usability — on multiple different types of devices to ensure you’re delivering a quality mobile experience. Also, resolve to test all new content on mobile before desktop in 2020.

via GIPHY

#2. Aimless Creation

At the start of the decade, content marketing was in a relatively nascent stage. The primary objective for marketers was simply to produce, as reflected by the first-ever B2B content marketing benchmark report from newly established Content Marketing Institute (CMI) in 2010. In this report, the top-cited challenges were:

  • Producing engaging content
  • Producing enough content
  • Budget to produce content

All that production, so little direction… It’s a problem that hasn’t gone away despite content marketing’s maturation over the course of a decade. In general, there’s still too much focus on the creation and not enough on the strategy. In many programs, promotion and measurement take distant back seats. 

In the 2020s, let’s start looking at the big picture, and channel the same enthusiasm we show for creation into all the other elements of successful content. A holistic approach to the discipline begins with documenting your content strategy and adhering to its vision, as will a robust list of content promotion tactics to draw from.  

In the 2020s, let’s start looking at the big picture, and channel the same enthusiasm we show for creation into all the other elements of successful content. @NickNelsonMN Click To Tweet

What To Do: Create or refine your documented content strategy. Take a gander at our top B2B content marketing trends and predictions for 2020 to ensure you’re fully up to speed.

#3. Email Abandonment

It’s been an interesting decade for email marketing. The tactic’s popularity endures – email newsletters were cited as the third-most common type of content for B2B marketers in the latest CMI benchmarking report – but confidence in this channel has evidently waned. 

According to research by the Data & Marketing Association (DMA), only 55% of marketers believe more than half of what they send out is useful to subscribers, and more concerningly, only 14% of subscribers feel that way. 

I’m on record as saying email marketing is not dead, it just needs rejuvenation. I think the inbox will be in again in the 2020s, as practitioners get back into touch with the fundamentals that make it such a powerful communication channel to begin with. Through stronger segmentation, audience insight, and relationship-driven strategy, we can get back to capitalizing on a space where the average professional spends 3+ hours of their workday.

(Source)

What To Do: Subscribe to a few newsletters from leading brands to do some recon, and adopt the subscriber-centric practices you like best.

#4. Influence for the Sake of Influence

I wonder if we’ll all look back at the 2017 Fyre Festival fiasco – and the documentaries it yielded – as a turning point for influencer marketing. 

In a way, that whole ordeal was damaging, casting a light on the total fraudulence of paid Instagram celebrities hawking products they had no connection to, or understanding of, merely to seem hip and raise awareness. But I view it as more of a positive: That seedy side of “influencer marketing” needed to be exposed, enabling us all to acknowledge it and move past it.

Fyre Festival didn’t prove that influencer marketing is ineffective; it proved that prioritizing reach and status above all else is the wrong way to do it. At TopRank Marketing, we have long asserted that relying on popularity metrics alone is a mistake, while aligning influencer type and topic is critical. 

Fyre Festival didn’t prove that influencer marketing is ineffective; it proved that prioritizing reach and status above all else is the wrong way to do it. @NickNelsonMN Click To Tweet

LinkedIn’s* Judy Tian recently shared her views on this essential nuance: “Even though I think reach is part of the equation, and we want to work with influencers who have a substantial amount of reach … the relevancy and engagement are what’s important. Are the influencers actually experts in the areas you wanna talk about? And are they gonna have credibility with their end users? And then are they going to shed credibility onto your brand as a result?”

These are the true objectives of B2B influencer marketing. It’s influence with a purpose. And that mindset should drive our strategies in the years ahead.

What To Do: Review influencer lists to make sure expertise and credibility aligns with the audience for your campaigns, and start prioritizing relevance over reach for future initiatives.

#5. Talking About Ourselves

I’ll close with perhaps the single most important shift for B2B marketers in 2020 and beyond: Moving the spotlight from our own products and services to our customers. This is a crucial area where data tells us we’re coming up short.

A recent report from Forrester, titled Customer-Centered Messaging Helps Boost B2B Revenues By Motivating Buyer Action, shows that:

  • 88% of B2B marketers admit their homepages talk primarily about their companies, products, and services
  • 13% of B2B marketers use narrative to tell a story, walk buyers through a persuasive argument, or show some empathy with customer concerns
  • 28% of B2B marketers mirror the language that their target audiences and decision makers use when talking about those problems

These are troubling numbers. In the 2020s, we need to take the next step in customer-centricity, going beyond connecting our solutions to the audience by doing so from their point of view. It’s not an easy thing to master – as the Forrester report indicates – but it is a very worthy pursuit. 

We should all be striving to develop empathy, as it’s defined by Intuit’s Brian Hood: “Having such a strong understanding that it’s hard to tell the line between us and our customers.” And our content should convey it.

What To Do: Walk the walk when it comes to being customer-centric. Put customer insight in the driver’s seat for everything you create in 2020. Be cognizant of how often you’re centering the conversation on your brand and its solutions.

Here’s to a Decade of Dazzling Results

The next 10 years are going to be exciting and invigorating. Technology, creativity, and data-driven insight will commingle in new ways to reinvent what is possible for digital customer experiences. We’re excited to venture into this great unknown alongside all of our clients, partners, and peers. 

From my view, B2B marketers who are best-prepared for what lies ahead will be:

  • Mobile-first
  • Thoroughly strategic with creation
  • Adamant about energizing email engagement
  • Focused on influencer relevance
  • Keenly customer-centered in approach

Want to further ready yourself for the year and decade ahead? Check out our robust pieces on 2020 trends and predictions:

*Disclosure: LinkedIn is a TopRank Marketing client.

B2B Content Marketing Lessons from 2019’s Nerdy Film & TV Franchise Finales

B2B Content Marketing Lessons from Film & TV Franchise Finales

2019 may be remembered as the year we reached peak nerd.

When I was growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, nerd culture was still underground, something for weird kids and weirder adults. Now our biggest entertainment franchises are what used to be nerd stuff: High fantasy, epic science fiction, comic book heroe,s and horror movies. 

But 2019 was the year that cracks started to show in even the most lucrative franchises. Several high-profile series came to an end — and only one of them really stuck the landing. Let us take solace in the words of Jedi Master Yoda himself:

Yoda Captioned The Greatest Teacher, Failure Is

Marketers can learn a lot from each of the year’s biggest nerdy swan songs. 

(All opinions about nerd cinema are mine and not necessarily those of TopRank Marketing. I’m sure some of us loved the “Game of Thrones” finale.)

Content Marketing Lessons from 5 of 2019’s Biggest Film and TV Franchise Finales

#1: Star Wars: Have a Plan and Stay Consistent

The first three “Star Wars” movies told a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end. The prequel series, for all its faults, did the same. But the final three movies don’t have the same consistency in narrative and purpose.

“The Force Awakens” hit the same plot beats as “A New Hope”, the 1977 original film. The sequel, “The Last Jedi”, threw away the rule book and aimed to surprise and challenge fans. Now the final entry is already being panned for returning to predictable fan service.

What happened? Disney didn’t have a plan for the entire trilogy. There was no one keeping the tone consistent across all three movies, no agreed-upon plot points or even an ending in mind. The result: A bumpy ride for the end of a 40-year franchise.

Luke Skywalker Yelling No

The B2B Content Marketing Lesson: 

Every encounter with your brand should feel like it’s part of one ongoing story. That means coordinating your content marketing strategy between departments, and within your own team. It also means starting each campaign with a shared vision, shared objectives, and common KPIs across sales and marketing.

Every encounter with your brand should feel like it’s part of one ongoing story. @NiteWrites Click To Tweet

#2: Game of Thrones: Respect Your Audience and Don’t Rush It

The “Game of Thrones” series was a cultural phenomenon. It pulled in record numbers for HBO, inspired countless imitators, and was one of the most-watched (and pirated) series of the 2010s. It seemed impossible that the show’s creators could squander that goodwill…

Until the final season premiered. Longtime fans found the episode count reduced, the action rushed, and beloved characters reduced to caricatures. The plot seemed driven by an urge to finish up quickly than to provide a satisfactory resolution. Fans were furious, and even casual viewers could tell the difference.

Cersei Lannister with Caption Screams Internally

The B2B Content Marketing Lesson:

Don’t put expedience ahead of experience. If you’re creating content just to fill the editorial calendar or hit a deadline, your audience will sense it. And they’ll move on to content that demonstrates care and understanding, rather than content for content’s sake.

Don’t put expedience ahead of experience. If you’re creating content just to fill the editorial calendar or hit a deadline, your audience will sense it. @NiteWrites Click To Tweet

#3: Terminator: Know Your Audience, Don’t Chase Trends

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Terminator” franchise was unstoppable — for two blockbuster movies in the late ’80s and early ’90s.  Entries 3, 4, and 5 brought in steadily diminishing returns. 

In 2018, another decades-old franchise, “Halloween”, had a massive hit by bringing back the original cast for one more adventure. The “Terminator” series hopped on the trend, with a new installment featuring the original cast. But “Terminator: Dark Fate” bombed, with the lowest box office of the franchise so far. 

It turns out, not every beloved franchise from the ’80s and ’90s has enough audience to support a $200-million new chapter.

Terminator Gives Thumbs Up While Sinking in Molten Metal

The B2B Content Marketing Lesson: 

Are you producing content that meets a verified audience need? Does it offer the best answer to their most pressing concerns? Or is it just hopping on the next shiny trend, seeking to duplicate another brand’s success? It’s worth asking these hard questions during the planning stages.

#4: X-Men: Evolve to Stay Relevant

Director Bryan Singer invented the modern comic book movie with 2000’s “X-Men”. The entire Marvel blueprint is there: Superheroes teaming up to fight seemingly unbeatable foes, wielding amazing powers, and quippy dialog in equal proportion. 

Fast-forward 20 years, and “X-Men: Dark Phoenix” closed the franchise with a whimper, both from critics and at the box office. What happened? Well, essentially, the entire Marvel cinematic universe. 

Superhero movies evolved dramatically between 2000 and 2019. They got smarter, more engaging, better-acted and scripted, with more coherent, better-directed action sequences. “Dark Phoenix” would have been state-of-the-art in 2000, but it was jarringly unsophisticated to modern audiences.

Jean Grey Screams Stop

The B2B Content Marketing Lesson:

Best practices in marketing evolve faster than mutant DNA. Don’t rely on the same old messages in the same few channels and expect your audience to respond with enthusiasm. Keep your audience research current, explore new ways to connect creatively, and keep track of what’s state-of-the-art.

Best practices in marketing evolve faster than mutant DNA. Don’t rely on the same old messages in the same few channels and expect your audience to respond with enthusiasm. @NiteWrites Click To Tweet

#5: Avengers: Practically Perfect in Every Way

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) features 23 movies (at last count) that represent over $20 billion in box office revenue. It’s also the most elaborate shared universe that has ever been, with characters from each standalone film crossing over for adventures across the franchise. 

“Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame” wrapped up the first decade of MCU movies with nearly six hours of interstellar, dimension-hopping, time-twisting action. Both installments were beloved by fans and critics alike.

What went right? The filmmakers followed every lesson in this post:

  • They planned the whole story in advance. 
  • They kept a consistent look and feel even as individual movies varied in genre and tone. 
  • They took the time to develop plot lines across movies, without rushing resolution.
  • They delivered what the audience wanted without aping what other studios were doing.
  • They evolved over time, picking up lessons in characterization and storytelling and applying them to the final films.

The B2B Content Marketing Lesson:

In marketing, as in nerd franchises, there’s no substitute for thoughtful planning. That includes intensive audience research, strategizing and goal-setting, and continuous optimization over time. While your marketing may not have the visceral thrill of, say, Captain America swinging Thor’s hammer, it can still connect with your audience for blockbuster results.

In marketing, as in nerd franchises, there’s no substitute for thoughtful planning. That includes intensive audience research, strategizing and goal-setting, and continuous optimization over time. @NiteWrites Click To Tweet

Captain America Swings Thor's Hammer in Avengers Endgame

Ready to rock content marketing in 2020? Check out our Content Marketing Trends & Predictions for 2020.

How to Build a Binge-Worthy and Rewarding B2B Content Strategy

Building Binge-Worthy B2B Content Strategy

As marketers, we’re accustomed to appreciating the rewards for a job well done. Create a piece of great content that resonates, and you’ll likely be greeted with those reinforcing indicators of impact: clicks, views, dwell time, pipeline growth, perhaps even third-party recognition.

But what’s in it for the person consuming this content? 

Sure, there is the inherent value derived from enjoying the content to begin with – learning something new, solving problems, or merely being entertained. But if we want our readers to stick around and continuously come back for more, the next step for marketers may well be to further incentivize heavier consumption of our content, especially as serialized formats and experiential marketing continue to take hold.

Naturally, the world of entertainment is leading the charge on this frontier.

The Business Value of Binging Content

Earlier this month, streaming platform Hulu unveiled a new ad format designed to reward binge watching. Triggered when a viewer begins to watch a third consecutive episode of the same show, “the ad experience presents viewers with either their next episode commercial-free or a personalized offer from a brand.”

“A critical component of this ad experience is the use of machine learning to predict when viewers are likely to start binge watching a show,” according to Jeremy Helfand, Hulu’s Vice President and Head of Advertising Platforms. “The creative execution then serves contextually relevant messaging from our brand partners that acknowledges a binge watching session has begun.”

Here’s an example of a customized binge-watching ad from Cheez-It:

Cheez-It Ad on Hulu

This is fascinating ground from a content marketer’s perspective. Binge watching is the most valuable action users can take on streaming platforms such as Hulu, but in the past, providers have mostly sought to avoid shaming viewers (I always chuckle at Netflix’s “We’re not judging” message prompt that pops up to make sure you’re still there after a show has been running for a certain length). Now, we’re seeing a shift toward actively incentivizing the behavior.

It goes without saying that binge-like consumption of brand content is a worthy aspiration for almost any marketer today. At a time where attention spans are shortening and content is saturating, being able to keep users yearning for more is the ultimate validator. It can also greatly increase the impact of your content, helping the brand message connect more deeply while encouraging subscriptions, shares, loyalty, and advocacy.

How can content marketers take a cue from Hulu and reward our most avid fans, while working to move more users into that category?

Building a Binge-Worthy B2B Content Strategy

In seeing the update from Hulu, I was reminded of a piece at Forbes by Kalev Leetaru a few months back, in which he asked: Why Doesn’t Social Media Reward Reading Rather Than Merely Speaking?

It was a great point that I hadn’t previously considered. “A user who spends their days spouting off uninformed bombastic platitudes will be lavishly rewarded with likes and followers, graduate to influencer status and earn revenue,” Leetaru wrote. “A user who spends their days quietly listening, like a patron in a library, will gain no recognition of any kind.”

Marketers are increasingly taking steps to encourage user-generated content, customer advocacy, contest participation, and the like. But we may have a blindspot for the kind of passive consumption that offers plenty of value in its own right. Here are some tips to help you situate your content strategy around this focus.

Marketers are increasingly taking steps to encourage UGC, customer advocacy, contest participation, and the like. But we may have a blindspot for the kind of passive consumption that offers plenty of value in its own right. @NickNelsonMN Click To Tweet

Create Content that Lends Itself to Binging

Step one, of course, is to ensure you have content that’s conducive to the kind of ravenous consumption we’re discussing here. The most obvious way to achieve this is through serial content – sequential pieces that all contribute to a larger, cohesive, overarching narrative. This is the model used by streaming platforms like Hulu and Netflix, and the most binge-able shows tend to end episodes with cliffhangers that make it difficult to quit. 

Think about ways to replicate this dynamic with your strategy. Does one blog post create a natural transition to the next in a series? Do your videos leave viewers with a curiosity they can satisfy through viewing another one? Does your asset promotion include a tension-building hook (a cliffhanger, if you will) that compels someone to take another step? And are you generating buzz, both naturally and through influencer engagements, that frames your content as can’t-miss? (How many shows have you binged because so many people told you they were must-watch?)

Web shows and podcasts like our Break Free B2B series also are natural opportunities to pull in your audience. (The latest episode, which features Content Marketing Institute’s Stephanie Stahl discussing content planning and building demand, is especially pertinent to the present topic.) 

Deliver on Your Promises

We’re mainly focusing on ways to encourage continual content consumption here, but we should also recognize the attributes that firmly discourage binging: namely, a failure to deliver on the content’s core promise.

via GIPHY

Think critically in these terms about everything you produce. Are we actually giving them the information they came for? Are we helping make our audience more capable and confident? Are they getting a unique experience, or is it the same thing they can easily find elsewhere? Perhaps most importantly, are we making all of this clear quickly enough? (How many times have you given up on a new show because the slow-moving first episode didn’t captivate you?)

A few years back, our Elizabeth Williams penned a blog post with examples of content marketing case studies that bring home the bacon by fulfilling their promises. 

Track How Individuals Consume Your Content

In order to reward content binging, you need to know when it’s happening and who’s doing it. There are a number of ways to understand this at a high level – measuring time on page, analyzing the number of referrals to a page from another one that sequentially preceded it, etc. – but we can also be more precise through the use of pixels and IP address data, which help us track activity down to the specific user level. Hulu also mentioned the use of machine learning technology, which could play a role for those with the necessary resources.

Develop Contextually Relevant Rewards

An incentive only makes sense if it fits contextually with the action that’s being rewarded. This is where marketers can really put on the creative hat and work to come up with relevant CTAs and interstitials that will jibe with a user’s mindset based on what they are consuming.

From push-button fixes to more technical solutions that can be implemented with assistance from a web developer or agency partner, here are a few ideas to get your creative juices flowing…

  • Once a user has spent five minutes on a page, have a pop-up window acknowledging that fact (“Hey, you’re still here and we really appreciate it!”) while directing them to your best related content.
  • When a user lands on a piece of serial content directly from the previous installment, create unique messaging to connect the two and play up the cohesive experience.
  • When an email subscriber opens up five consecutive emails from your brand, send them an additional one with a special offer, available only to your most loyal readers.
  • When a video viewer keeps watching for five minutes, trigger a pop-up link within the video that unlocks additional supporting content.

The possibilities are endless, just as the content consumption journey can be when designed thoughtfully under this premise.

Keep Your Audience Coming Back

In thinking about this subject, I’m reminded of a popular customer-centric models promoted by a marketer I admire (one who, incidentally, has a background in television).

Andrew Davis’s Loyalty Loop urges brands to take advantage of a moment of inspiration (“instants in time that send you on a journey you never expected”) to reinforce the behavior. In this case, it might mean catching someone while they’re inspired by that first piece of content – that tip of the iceberg – and prompting them to explore further. It’ll about anticipation.

For content marketers, rewarding the content-bingers in our audience is a great way to strategically incorporate this concept. And if we do it successfully, we’ll be able to appreciate those aforementioned rewards for a job well done all the more.

For further guidance on creating rewarding content, learn about the T.H.I.N.K. model for content strategy and how it puts purpose behind every piece.