The Slow Death of Guest Blogging: the Good, the Bad and the Future

When Matt Cutts initially warned webmasters against guest blogging, way back in 2012, most just flat out ignored him. Many believed that their guest posting strategies were inherently superior to other, spammier strategies. Some even saw the negative influence of guest posts as an opportunity. Popular bloggers would do “blog tours” to promote new content and less scrupulous marketers constantly swapped low-effort posts in an effort to expand their audiences. So Matt Cutts warned us again. And and again… and again. It seems as though no one really got the hint until Google began actively taking action against guest blog networks.

train stationWhy Are We So Stubborn When It Comes to Guest Blogging?

It used to work. But it used to work in the same way that Stephen King sending in a short story to Playboy worked and a teenager handing out CD mix tapes at a train station does not. It was all about the quality of the work and the context. Guest blogging started as a way for already popular bloggers to engage with each other and share their thoughts. When guest blogging became a method of developing search engine rankings first — and a method of connecting with an audience second — it became a flawed strategy.

Google has told us time and time again that all that really matters is the reader and providing the reader what they want. Everything else is just smoke, lights and magic. And there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, either: if someone approaches you with a guest blog, it’s probably not going to be the best content they are capable of producing. It may not even be unique. It may not even be theirs.

But in spite of all this, we’ve still stuck with guest blogs. Even if we don’t use it as an SEO strategy, we often use it as a strategy to sell product or build branding. Many guest bloggers are selling something specific — such as a new book. And the problem here is that any website accepting this type of content quite quickly becomes inundated with exactly that type of advertising. If every single piece of content on a site is trying to sell you something (and different things, at that!), you’re going to rapidly become disenchanted. You may even stop visiting the site entirely. And once that site’s authority plummets, it’s all over.

damage2But I Wanna Anyway: Limiting the Damage

It’s difficult to say that any strategy is bad. Strategies that are bad for 95% of the marketers may still be leveraged appropriately by that last 5%. Some marketers may find that guest blogs are still useful to them and their unique campaign. And when that happens, it becomes an issue of reducing harm.

The great news is that it’s not difficult: nofollow, nofollow, nofollow. Pretty much the only way to ensure that your PageRank isn’t adversely impacted by guest blog spots — and to make sure that your own site isn’t targeted by spam — is to only use nofollow links, which indicates to the search engine that the link should be effectively ignored.

Using a nofollow link still means that the audience can follow your links; so it’s still a good solution for audience building and general networking. It just means that guest blogging, contrary to what many have said for years now, isn’t really a good search engine optimization strategy.

And that also means that the content is, once more, at the forefront of the campaign. If the content isn’t good — and the site isn’t well-trafficked — it’s not likely to produce any significant results.

typingThe Peripheral Effect of Guest Blogging on Highly Trafficked Sites

There is, sort of, in a sense, a kind of roundabout way in which guest blogging can affect your traffic through a search engine — though, frankly, it’s a bit circuitous. Say you write a rather astonishing guest post on a blog with very high authority. Your guest post itself is going to have a high search engine ranking. And if that guest blog post happens to have a nofollow link to your own site, you may still see an influx of traffic indirectly through search engine results, because people are finding that guest blog through search engines and then clicking through.

The only reason we care about search engine rankings is because it makes it easier for people to find our content. So, technically, a guest post is still valuable in that sense. If you place a guest post on a site that already has good authority, you can easily drive traffic to your site through a search engine even if you are not actively increasing your own search engine relevancy. And, as a website owner, you can certainly build authority through quality content produced by guest bloggers, provided that this content does not serve as link spam.

But all of this already presupposes a high quality of both guest post and website, which again sends us back to the mix tape at the train station scenario.

audienceAudience Retention and the Guest Blogger

If guest blogging isn’t being used primarily to drive organic search traffic, then it’s being used mostly to bring over an audience. But the question is whether this audience is really retained. There are a few major goals that a guest blogger might have:

  • Building a brand through repeated exposure with a wider audience.
  • Creating awareness of a product or service that is either being launched or improved.
  • Driving social media engagement and bringing in new followers.
  • Improving website traffic (and hopefully conversions).

All of these goals are worthy ones, but they also need to function as part of a larger, concerted effort. Brand building and product awareness aren’t likely to be achieved without tremendous volumes of content. Social media engagement requires a dedicated social media strategy — as does capturing an audience once they have clicked through. For most, the traffic boost that they experience after a guest blog post will quickly wane.

businessinsiderGuest Blogging 2.0: What Will We Kill Next?

You know who doesn’t use nofollow links? The Huffington Post. And Forbes. And Business Insider. And…

Guest contributing has become the new guest blogging. And while Forbes and Business Insider may curate their links to ensure that the links themselves are already high authority, not all sites do. There are many entertainment, health, travel and hobby magazines today that run on guest contributions. And what is the difference between a guest blog and a guest contribution…?

Well, nothing really, except insofar that the websites are of a larger scale and they usually have a dedicated group of at least a few staff contributors. In reality, the only difference between guest contributions and guest blogs is — and this makes absolute sense — the quality and goal of the submissions.

But that doesn’t mean some people aren’t being sneaky about it. Many writers today are being paid by marketers to get information into HuffPo, Forbes and other similar publications. The press release junket used to be used for this purpose, until it was effectively tanked by Google for, of course, issues of quality, intent and user value.

So what’s the wrap? Guest blogging is a technique that has limited if any usefulness as a search engine optimization strategy, though it can be useful for brand awareness and audience building. Over the past couple of years, it has been slowly replaced as a strategy by guest contributions, which require a higher level of content standards but provide a better payoff with fewer limiting factors. But guest contributions, too, may eventually find themselves on the wrong end of Google’s sharp stick — it all depends on how they are used and to what end.

4 Actionable Mobile-Ready, Mobile-Friendly Website Tools and Tests

Is your website truly mobile-ready? Though responsive design is undoubtedly a big deal, there is no one aspect of a website that will make it entirely “mobile-friendly.” The modern website needs to be well-optimized, fast, user-friendly and technologically consistent if it is to both achieve search engine relevance and provide the best user experience.

fetchasgoogle1. Use Fetch as Google to Identify Any Access Problems

Tool: Fetch as Google

Google doesn’t necessarily see your website the same way that a visitor does. Google reviews your website with the “Googlebot,” also known as a web crawler. Occasionally, Google might be blocked from accessing certain parts of your site, usually through your robots.txt file. Fetch as Google will show you what your website actually looks like to the search engine.

Commonly, images, JavaScript, CSS or other formatting files might be blocked to the Googlebot. Some webmasters do this intentionally to reduce bandwidth and file transfers — though it’s really a legacy technique that is no longer necessary for most site environments.

Troubleshooting Fetch as Google

googlemobilefriendly2. Conduct a Mobile-Friendly Test

Tool: Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test

There’s no need to panic about mobile-friendly support; it’s actually very easy to determine whether your site is seen as mobile-friendly by Google. You just have to run their test, which is accessible both to the public and as a part of Google’s webmaster toolkit. Remember, though, that this just indicates that Google sees your website as mobile-friendly. It says nothing about how user-friendly your website actually is; for that, you need to conduct further cross-platform tests.

A mobile-friendly test is also critical for those who want to ensure that their search engine rankings are not hampered on mobile devices by Google’s new mobile-friendly measures. When Google says that they are promoting mobile-friendly links on their mobile search engine results page, this is the criteria that they are using.

Troubleshooting the Mobile-Friendly Test

renderblocking3. Run a Page Speed Test

Tool: Google’s Page Speed Insights | ySlow

Mobile users are generally more patient than desktop users, often waiting between 6 to 10 seconds for a mobile page to load. This can lead one to presume that page speed isn’t as important for mobile users. But mobile users are more patient because mobile connections are usually slower. If your website loads in two to three seconds on a desktop device, it will likely load much longer on some cellular data connections. In the best case scenario — a high speed Internet connection at home — you should try your best to ensure that your page is loaded in two seconds or less.

Troubleshooting Your Page Speed Test

mobiready4. Compare Your Site Cross-Platform

Tool: mobiReady | MobileTest.me

As mentioned, a website can be marked as mobile-friendly in Google but still not present as a standardized or easy to navigate web experience. Users today may be using any one of literally hundreds of platform combinations. Tablets, smartphones, iOS, Android — your user’s browsing environment could cause your site to break. The easiest way to ensure this doesn’t happen is to conduct a cross-platform test, which will emulate how your website looks on different devices, browsers and operating systems.

Troubleshooting Your Cross-Platform Test

The modern emphasis on mobile-friendly site design is an opportunity for any conscientious digital marketer and web developer. Mobile-friendly design may seem intimidating at first, but it’s actually fairly easy to achieve with the right tools, such as the above. Creating a truly mobile-ready website is just another way that a designer or marketer can differentiate their web property from the competition.

You may have noticed that many of these tools are provided through Google’s own webmaster tools. If you aren’t already doing so, paying attention to your Google Webmaster center is one of the best things you can do to ensure the overall quality of your site — not just its mobile optimization. For as much guesswork as we perform every day as designers and developers, Google actually presents quite a bit of information to us directly.

Why “Growth Hacking” Techniques Could Kill Your Small Business

What is ‘growth hacking’ and what do you need to know about it? One growth hacker defines the specialization as “one whose passion and focus is pushing a metric through use of a testable and scalable methodology.”

It’s OK, you can be confused. That means nothing. Growth hacking is not mysterious. It’s merely a marketing tactic that puts raw growth at the forefront of a marketing campaign rather than more conventional metrics such as revenue.

Many of the most famous growth hacking campaigns – Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram – provided free services, so it only makes sense that they used growth as their primary metric.  They could hardly use revenue when they had not yet established a clear revenue stream.

And growth hacking is nothing new. In fact, on some level, any competent campaign can be called a growth hacking campaign if it simply achieves growth really, really fast. That’s because any competent campaign uses testable and scalable methodology and any competent campaign involves passion and focus.

And who doesn’t want to grow fast?

Well, a lot of people. The #1 cause of startup death is premature scaling. Growing is not necessarily hard. Growing with stability is. Slow, organic growth is usually preferable to a huge boom. Even established corporations can make the mistake of scaling upwards too quickly and then faltering under the weight of their new overhead.

Huge growth appears appealing to investors but it carries with it some big problems:

  1. A lack of physical or virtual infrastructure to support huge growth.
  2. A lack of clear monetization and revenue streams for digital startups.
  3. A lack of customer feedback and user experience optimization.
  4. A lack of sustainable growth which the company can rely upon in the future.

In short, the question is: are you really ready for growth?

That’s not to say that growth hacking can’t be a good technique; it’s just a very specialized strategy. Growth hacking is, at its heart, a microcosm of the dotcom boom. It can only be used by companies that can absolutely scale up quickly and that already have a stable infrastructure and viable revenue stream in place. Basically: the lean internet startup. For businesses that have more tangible costs, it’s ironically unlikely to produce reliable, sustainable growth.

Resources

  1. http://www.aginnt.com/growth-hacker#.VTUTkfnF-So
  2. http://www.quicksprout.com/the-definitive-guide-to-growth-hacking/
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Growth_hacking#Methods
  4. http://www.forbes.com/sites/nathanfurr/2011/09/02/1-cause-of-startup-death-premature-scaling/
  5. http://www.inc.com/karl-and-bill/build-your-business-one-customer-at-a-time.html
  6. http://www.geekwire.com/2011/number-reason-startups-fail-premature-scaling/
  7. http://readwrite.com/2012/12/31/10-real-world-things-to-consider-before-scaling-your-startup

Building a Pink Fairy: The “Double Tap” Theory of Customer Relationships

By Cliff [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Cliff [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsLet’s say that this morning you first discovered the existence of the pink fairy armadillo. And that’s fantastic, because everyone should know about the pink fairy armadillo. But now you have a problem — now you’re seeing the pink fairy armadillo everywhere. Science news sites, entertainment magazines, articles about digital marketing; the pink armadillo has, somehow, become universally ubiquitous within your media sphere.

You aren’t losing your mind, nor has the digital zeitgeist suddenly become enamored with pink armadillos — this is known as the Baader-Meinhof phenomenonOnce you’ve just learned about something, you become predisposed towards noticing it again.

You might have very well heard about the majesty of chlamyphorus truncatus (also known as the pichiciego) many times before, but because it didn’t sink in at that point, you just don’t remember it. Now that it’s at the surface of your mind, some part of you is actively scanning for it. And every time you notice it subsequently, it will become even more firmly rooted in your mind.

flowers-599344_640Building Your Own Pink Fairies

The first interaction that a customer has with your brand is important. But it may not be as important as the second interaction they have with your brand. The dirty secret of conversion rates is that they are, with very few exceptions, incredibly low. The standard e-commerce conversion rate ranges between 1% and 3%, with most falling in the middle. So for every fifty people who have an experience with your brand — whatever that experience might be — only a single person will convert.

Brand building seeks to create customer relationships and customer associations that will last long-term, transcending each single interaction that the customer has with the business. It isn’t the first interaction — or even the second or third — that is going to stick into the customer’s mind, it’s the recognition the customer feels after being repeatedly exposed to your brand. That feeling of familiarity and recognition is what builds trust in a brand and what ultimately leads to better customer retention and higher customer lifetime values.

handshake-440959_640Customer Recognition Through The “Double Tap” Theory

Content marketing is essentially built on the importance of recognition: through repeated exposure with a brand, a customer will be more likely to engage with and convert to the product or service. Through content marketing, the emphasis of marketing becomes less on converting that initial customer interaction but rather on creating a memorable initial customer interaction. The goal is to give the customer something specific to remember about your brand, whether it is creating insightful, unique commentary or rambling about particularly small, colorful armadillos for the space of an entire article.

Once you have seeded the customer with your personal pink fairy, you can then initiate the double tap. When the customer next experiences your brand, they will feel that flare of recognition and familiarity and, more importantly, they will begin to trust you. Consistently high-quality content is critical to this strategy because you can’t control when and where the customer will experience their double tap. Brands must invest in creating a “voice” for their product that transcends marketing platform if they are to develop this form of trust.

bacteria-67659_640Epidemiology and the Brand Advocate

When pink fairies are seeded and the “double tap” theory has been successfully implemented, something remarkable can happen — you can create brand advocates. Brand advocates aren’t always customers. Some of them may never actually make a purchase from you. But through their trust and familiarity with your brand, they will begin marketing for you through word-of-mouth advertising. Word-of-mouth advertising is arguably the most powerful form of marketing and definitely the most cost-effective.

By reaching out to existing and potential brand advocates through social media campaigns, you can control the epidemiology and spread of your brand growth. You can increase the Baader-Meinhof quotient of your brand, by ensuring that you have a high saturation among certain circles. Every mention of your brand through any form of media is another chance at triggering that sense of familiarity and loyalty — which you will, by then, have rooted into your very own pink fairy.

Creating a lasting relationship with a customer is what content marketing is all about. But there is such an incredible volume of content that you need to be able to differentiate yourself in a unique and memorable way if you are to build customer trust and loyalty. Once you’ve created the appropriate branding, you can potentially capture customers through any of your future interactions.

 

The Holistic Approach to Digital Marketing

A man goes to his family physician and says, “Doctor, I can’t sleep at night.” The doctor says, “Take some Ambien.” Three sleepless nights later he consults with a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist says, “Take some Lexapro.” Now three sleepless weeks pass, and the man — going crazy — consults with a surgeon. The surgeon says what the man feared most: “You need back surgery.” But, you guessed it: three sleepless months pass. The man finally goes back to his physician. This time the physician asks, “How’s your mattress?”

The man says, “Mattress? I sleep in my Laz-Z-Boy chair.”

cobweb-4193_640Marketing in an Interconnected World

Digital marketing is not modular. That is to say, you can’t have a box and say “this is my social media box,” “this is my owned media box,” and “this is my paid media box.” Marketing is a web. Each campaign connects with the others — and can either strengthen or subvert them. If you aren’t considering the whole marketing campaign — the holistic view of the marketing campaign — you aren’t going to be getting the most out of any of the individual components. A single tear in the fabric of your campaign can bring the entire thing tumbling down.

chain-257492_640The “Weakest Link” Theory in Marketing

Take this very simple concept, an integrated social media campaign: your blog pushes readers towards your social media pages while your social media pages feed your followers back to your blog. New visitors enter in at either side, becoming part of this cycle, slowly building both readership and followers and creating a closed circuit loop of engagement and integration.

But what happens when one part of this cycle — one link in this chain — is weak?

If your blog isn’t reliably sending traffic to your social media audience, your social media followers may languish. This doesn’t just decrease social media engagement, it also reduces your blog traffic, which, in turn, even further reduces the amount of social media followers you gain. The system as a whole has become weaker because of a single issue.

If you’re looking at your marketing campaign from a modular perspective, you will see your traffic going down — but you might not realize that it has to do with your social media presence or your social media integration, because “traffic” and “social media” may be two separate boxes in your strategy. You might try to bolster your search engine optimization — which will help, but won’t address the real problem.

links-01

audienceIntegrated Marketing through Entry Points and Links

To better integrate your marketing, you need to concentrate both on entry points and links: where your audience is finding you and also how your audience is moving between your marketing. Followers are gained through search engine optimization, social media marketing and content marketing, but they also move between these platforms, which need to be appropriately integrated.

A common problem is integrating websites with email marketing campaigns. If the transition isn’t seamless, the audience can be lost even when they attempt to convert. Companies can also establish significant social media presence but be unable to drive traffic to their website; their social media reach ultimately has limited value as far as revenue generation is concerned, though it may still have a significant brand-building component.

cube-689619_640Succumbing to the Chaos

There’s some resistance to the term holistic. When your headache could be caused by anything from stress to high sodium, it can be easy to imagine connections, some of which are unlikely at best. You can find yourself chasing weird diets or making radical changes to your sleeping schedule. Marketing can be the same way. You see a jump in conversions or traffic and you look for any little thing that could have caused it… even if it might be something completely unrelated to your marketing campaign.

You roll the dice often enough, eventually you’re going to hit upon a winning combination.

The danger of a whole approach to marketing is that it’s overwhelming. It is always tempting to try to drill down to a few specific strategies or techniques and attribute all of your success to them. In other words, the holistic marketing approach can feel so complex that there is a tendency to become reductionist — which ultimately defeats the entire purpose. This is another reason why having a campaign strategy is of such vital importance. By approaching things in a controlled, systematic matter, even very intricate webs of data can become manageable.

4 Tips for Creating Highly Specific Content

Content marketing has come a long way in the past few years. The best way to ensure that your content is neither irrelevant or ignored is to make it as highly specific and detailed as possible — but that isn’t always an easy task, especially in the wake of the sheer volumes of content that is often produced. “Unique” has become a fairly meaningless word; thrown around and rarely contemplated. But it’s still an extremely important word; content that isn’t unique is likely to be ignored.

men-311308_640Tip #1: Always Write to a Specific Audience Demographic

Marketing is always most effective when it is targeted and personal. Try to imagine the person that you’re talking to — and speak directly to them. Think of a specific person. Name them. Ask yourself what Roberta would want to know about your product or what questions Mike would ask about your service. The more personal you get, the better.

It can be easy to assume that casting a wider net will make your marketing more successful. You want to market to 10,000,000 people, not 10,000 — right? Well, that might be true, but you don’t need to market to them all at once. Most companies will achieve greater penetration by separating their audience into smaller demographics and tailoring their content to those demographics, rather than trying to address their entire audience as some form of amorphous whole.

mapsTip #2: Use Location and Context as Anchors

City, season, neighborhood, events — all of these can be used as anchors for highly specific and detailed content. It’s not enough to simply mention a geographical location in passing context; you need to insert details about that context to create a picture in your reader’s mind.

Think of a book. A book always has a setting and it’s this setting that usually draws the reader in. Without a firm setting, the reader is adrift; even if the characters are compelling, they just can’t relate. When you’re creating the story of your product, service or company, you want the reader to associate and engage. This can only be done if the reader is first grounded.

And there’s a more technical reason behind this, too — geo-targeted content performs much better in search engine rankings. The more specific you get, the better.

newspaper-159877_640Tip #3: Don’t Be Afraid to Get Current

Some marketers shy away from current events because they know that this content is naturally on a time limit. But that shouldn’t dissuade you from delving into news and current events for specific, industry-related and consumer-related information. It isn’t always about building up a lasting content catalog; it’s also about user interaction. The more often a user interacts with and experiences your brand, the more likely they are to trust, engage and convert.

A user seeing a contemporary news article today may not necessarily purchase a product from you today — but they may when they see your name again six months down the road. Every single user interaction is an investment in the future, regardless of conversion. Getting current is an opportunity to seed your chances for future conversion. All content, on some level, is temporary — and this should not be feared.

question-622164_640Tip #4: Try to Solve a Problem

Don’t create aimless content just for the sake of speaking about a particular topic. Your content should try to solve a specific problem — even if that “problem” may just be natural curiosity. Your content should always have a goal of its own, that goes beyond conversion. Remember: your audience usually isn’t specifically looking to buy something. You need to know what they are looking for.

Too often, marketers begin with conversion as their end goal and create their content solely with the idea of conversion in mind. This creates content that is generic and inauthentic; readers will rebel against overly-aggressive messaging. But if you try to solve a problem that your highly specific audience has, you’ll create content that they will be looking for.

It isn’t always possible to be more specific — at least, not without churning out something awkward. When you can’t be unique, just be great. The most famous of our inventors and innovators were not those who thought of an idea first, but rather those who implemented the idea best. If you absolutely have to cover ground that has already been covered, cover it well. A little polish and thoughtfulness will go a long way.

Creating a Solid B2B Content Marketing Campaign

A documented content marketing strategy is a requirement for a successful B2B marketing campaign. Despite this, most B2B content marketers don’t have one. Content marketing lends itself to a fairly casual, fast-and-loose marketing approach. Compared to other marketing strategies, content marketing has a very low barrier to entry and can be pivoted easily, allowing a marketer to move with agility from one focus to another. But that doesn’t mean that a lack of a strategy is harmless or desirable. A lack of strategy leaves many marketers aimless and confused as to whether their strategy is even working.

tie-690084_640Developing Your Company’s Culture

Personality and attitude are the cornerstone of any content marketing campaign. A B2B marketing campaign offers the opportunity to develop a feeling of company culture through their content. Because let’s face it: there’s a lot of content out there. Unless the company is producing something compelling or unique, it’s likely to get lost in the froth.

A company’s culture is more than brief missives from the executives. Everyone in the company must be on-board and moving in the same direction. On social platforms such as LinkedIn, essential company employees should maintain their own profiles in a professional and engaging manner. Executives must remain active in all levels of their corporate structure, creating a trickle-down company philosophy.

silhouette-305431_640The Harm of the Generic

Companies of all industries are finding their content marketing results… a little lackluster. That’s not because content marketing doesn’t work: it’s because their content doesn’t work. With B2C marketing, there’s some wiggle room available. Consumers usually don’t know the ins and outs of an industry, and you can produce fairly generic content that is still educational to them. But B2B content is different.

B2B content is often targeted at experts within a certain industry — or, at very least, individuals who have a basic knowledge of the product or service. These are professionals who do a great deal of reading within the industry and will notice repetitive, generic or just plain wrong content. Consequently, B2B marketers have to invest more time and money into the creation of truly valuable, interesting and informative content creation.

linkedin-400850_640Leveraging B2B-Focused Social Media

LinkedIn offers B2B marketers a unique advantage: they can market directly to an audience already interested in their product. When dealing with consumers, marketers have to toe the line between aggressive and assertive. Consumers are highly resistant to advertising through social media networks, as their primary goal is to interact with friends and family members. There is no such conflict on LinkedIn, where the vast majority of professionals are openly looking for new opportunities.

That isn’t to say other social media platforms aren’t worthwhile. Facebook and Twitter are both still fantastic advertising avenues — but they lend themselves more easily to B2C advertising. Tumblr, in particular, is a platform that is extraordinarily powerful for B2C advertising but rarely used for B2B messaging. Trying to market on these platforms can be a little like swimming upstream.

notes-686344_640Following Your Competition

Corporate espionage and intrigue is easier than ever through social media. Obviously, it doesn’t have to be as dramatic as that. But following your competition can give you both leads and inspiration. Without comprehensive knowledge of your competitor’s strategies and status, you’ll never know exactly where you fall in comparison. And you might find yourself falling behind them in relevancy.

In the area of content marketing, you can’t know whether you’re providing true value to others within your industry unless you know what your competitors are putting out there. And it’s almost certain that professionals within your field are already tracking your biggest competitors. Move your content into areas that your competitors aren’t covering — and if you have to retread similar ground, make sure that your content is better.

How does B2B content marketing differ from B2C content marketing? Mostly in the audience. Though the audience is more receptive to your marketing, they are also more knowledgeable about your industry. Your marketing campaign will gain traction more easily within your audience, but only if you are truly providing value. Competition will be more aggressive but, at the same time, leads will be more likely to come directly to you and more willing to engage. In short, it’s better in some ways but more challenging in others.

Common A/B Split Testing Mistakes in Digital Marketing

Split testing is one of the most powerful tools in a digital marketer’s kit. With so many competing strategies available, it’s almost impossible to predict what will work on any reliable basis. Through split testing, a digital marketer is able to quickly compare different strategies and isolate the most favorable ones. Unfortunately, the data from a split testing campaign can also be misused and misrepresented. When the process of testing is rushed or flawed, it can produce results that are actively detrimental.

testTesting Without a Stated Purpose

The purpose of split testing is to test out a specific strategy. A single specific strategy. It’s not enough to say “We like this landing page design and this landing page design; Let’s see which one works.” A/B testing should be as focused as possible or you won’t understand why the data you receive paints the picture that it does. Moreover, you’ll waste your own time.

Careful consideration should always go into any A/B test you run. The test itself should be mostly about developing your strategies and finding the best way to test which one works best. Otherwise you’ll find yourself running tests that are either poorly thought out or entirely unnecessary.

In the above example, rather than testing two landing page designs as a whole, you should be testing specific aspects of design:

  • The position, shape and appearance of conversion prompts.
  • The call-to-action and ad copy positioning and verbiage.
  • The visual media surrounding the call-to-action and prompt.

swatchRunning Too Short of a Test

It can be tempting to call a test over once the expected results have been achieved. It’s a bad idea. A test should be done for a minimum of a full week and should only be called following the collection of a solid sample size. A test should never be done for a matter of hours or for a single day unless the test is specifically designed to test something time-sensitive. As an example, you might be testing late night conversions, or specifically trying to test a Saturday sale.

The demographic and activity breakdown of a website’s traffic vastly changes depending time of day and day of week. There’s no way to achieve a decent analysis if you don’t have a sample size that transcends the standard seven day week. And, in fact, in many cases a full month can be preferable. For e-commerce sites in particular, paydays can vastly affect revenue streams and traffic.

fruitsNot Collecting Easily Compared Results

A/B split testing requires that the tests be run with as identical an audience as possible. Apart from the strategies being tested, everything else in the tests should be the same. You can’t run an A/B test one after the other nor can you run them at different times of day; the results you get will be both unpredictable and inconclusive.

Marketers who don’t have the technology or resources to run “proper” split testing may try to skirt around this by simply making the required modifications to their site, recording the results and then comparing them with prior results over the same period of time. While this is still technically a split test, it isn’t an accurate form of testing — for one, it makes it very difficult to account for the site’s growth.

customersTesting With Too Few Customers

Split testing is designed to show differences in large volumes of traffic. A large sample size is required to draw any results. Sites that don’t have a significant amount of traffic and conversion to begin with won’t usually benefit from split testing; the margin for error is simply too wide. If your site only achieves five conversions a week, a single additional conversion will seem statistically significant — when, in reality, it could just be a fluke of timing. If your site achieves fifty conversions a week and you see ten additional conversions, on the other hand, that may be more significant.

Following our article on statistical inaccuracy, it seems important to point out why we, as digital marketers, often have such an inconsistent relationship with data. Simply put, data scientists require many years of experience and education to learn how to interpret data consistently and without bias. It seems almost naive to expect that we could obtain an immediate expertise in an area that requires such discipline. While data doesn’t lie, it is also extremely open to interpretation — and that’s why we need to be very cautious about the conclusions that we draw.

Split testing is not a tool for building conversion, it’s a tool for optimizing conversion — there’s a difference. Split testing works best when a site is already successful and is attempting to improve upon that success. And when used properly, split testing can be an incredibly powerful tool.

Why Clickbait and Content Marketing Don’t Get Along

Clickbait drives traffic. It may not be fair, but it’s undeniably true; 2014 may as well have been The Year of Clickbait as far as the digital world as a whole was considered. An incredible number of news and entertainment venues were successfully launched last year based on just this type of traffic. But while clickbait tactics may work for some digital marketing campaigns, they usually don’t work for most content marketing campaigns. The goals of most content marketing campaigns and clickbait usually diametrically opposed.

contractTrust Violation: Breaking the Contract Between Reader and Writer

Users have spoken: they hate clickbait. They may keep clicking on it, but that doesn’t mean they like clicking on it. For advertisers who simply want to build traffic, that’s fine; for companies looking to build a brand, it’s not. Contrary to what some believe, not all press is good press — and not all traffic is good traffic.

The core problem with clickbait is that it breaks the implied trust between the reader and the writer. The writer has promised one thing and then performed a bait-and-switch, leaving the user with content that they aren’t interested in. For companies seeking to build a reputation, that’s the exact opposite of the desired intention. A successful content marketing campaign should eventually lead to a trustworthy brand identity.

clickingExpired Content: When the Clicking Stops

Every type of content has a different life expectancy. Clickbait is generally not aimed at longevity; the entire goal of clickbait is to just get someone, anyone, to click on it when they see it. While social sharing can extend the lifetime of clickbait content, social sharing doesn’t have a lengthy engagement either. Most clickbait sites support their traffic with a constant influx of new content.

When was the last time you clicked on a clickbait headline that showed up in your search engine results page? Most people don’t. In fact, most people don’t even find clickbait titles in their search engine results — it’s not as though they are carefully keyword optimized. They almost can’t be; keyword optimization would go against the basic principles of the clickbait title.

Content marketing campaigns are aimed at long-lasting content; content that will drive traffic for a long time to come. On some level, content marketing doesn’t need to be clickbait — it will eventually gain the traffic that it deserves through its value. A major appeal to content marketing is that the traffic ultimately becomes sustaining with a minimal amount of upkeep.

trafficMeaningless Traffic: A Lack of Conversion

Clickbait’s major goal is traffic. But traffic isn’t particularly important to a content marketing campaign — engagement is. Clickbait isn’t geared towards engagement. In fact, a significant portion of readers likely bounce right off of a clickbait page once they realize that it isn’t going to be delivering on its title.

Raw traffic doesn’t mean much to a content marketing campaign. It doesn’t build a brand and it doesn’t drive conversions. If anything, it can throw off a marketer’s metrics by reducing the percentage of conversions and making the campaign look less successful than it actually is. It’s unlikely that users will convert to anything when they have arrived at a page through misinformation. Content marketing produces conversions by providing the customer with exactly what they need.

idenittyIdentity Crisis: When Clickbait Isn’t Clickbait

Clickbait is generally used to describe content that is inherently bait-and-switch: a compelling title that either exaggerates the article’s premise or outright lies about it. But clickbait titles can theoretically be true — it’s just so difficult to achieve that most people don’t bother. For example,  “What This Russian Doctor is Planning to Do With This Man’s Head Will Shock You!” is both clickbait and, at the same time, probably pretty true.

There’s nothing that says that marketers can’t leverage the principles behind clickbait to make their titles more compelling. Clickbait takes advantage of something called the “curiosity gap,” which is the natural human inclination to learn more when a question has already been raised. There are ways to take advantage of this curiosity gap without outright misleading your readers.

Standard clickbait tactics are simply incompatible with the majority of content marketing strategies — though there are always exceptions. Clickbait does not produce content that will build the brand’s reputation or that will remain relevant for a long period of time. For the purposes of content marketing, it’s usually best to be as straightforward as possible.

While clickbait may still be a popular trend as of 2015, its days may well be numbered. Readers have become savvy to the tactic and are starting to aggressively resist it. There will come a time when readers will be so over-exposed to clickbait that it will become meaningless to them, and therefore ineffective.

Black Hat SEO Techniques Marketers Are Still Using in 2015

Google has been largely winning the war against black hat SEO, but that doesn’t mean that the techniques have disappeared — or, in some cases, even become entirely ineffective. Some black hat SEO techniques reside in a gray enough area that conventional marketers are still using some of them today. Other black hat techniques are still being kept alive by still achieving marginal success.

payingPaying for Links and Link Exchanging

Paid linking and link exchanging both fall under Google’s “link schemes” category. Following Google’s PageRank algorithm changes, links are really only valuable if they are sent from websites that have some level of authority themselves. This has made paid linking and link exchanging more challenging, but hasn’t killed the trend entirely. Part of the problem is that many people don’t realize what constitutes a “link scheme.”

One obvious example: paying someone $20 to link to your website. Another obvious example: signing up for a link exchange site, in which every website sends links to the others. But there are some less obvious examples that may also violate guidelines:

  • Asking someone to post “For more insurance news, check the ABC Insurance Blog!” on their site. This constitutes a text advertisement that can be mistaken for content.
  • Writing a guest post and linking the words “designing your own Halloween costume” to a blog post on your site; it can be considered distribution. This is one reason why press releases have recently fallen out of favor.
  • Linking to your sites through other sites in your footers or templates with anchor text. “Copyright XYZZY Web” is fine; “Get websites designed by XYZZY Web” is not.

unrelatedUsing Unrelated or Irrelevant Keywords

Keyword stuffing hasn’t gone away — it’s just evolved. Not only are marketers still producing thin content with high keyword saturation, but they are also focusing on niche keywords that may or may not actually have anything to do with their content. Unlike link exchanging and link purchasing, this strategy doesn’t actually work. But it can still garner a Google penalty. Even marketers who do not believe they are using this SEO technique could be doing so inadvertently. Review Google’s own example of irrelevant keywords:

We sell custom cigar humidors. Our custom cigar humidors are handmade. If you’re thinking of buying a custom cigar humidor, please contact our custom cigar humidor specialists at custom.cigar.humidors@example.com.

Note that Google doesn’t only mean “irrelevant” as unrelated to the content, which is a common misconception. They aren’t just talking about including “hot air balloons” in your cigar copy — though that is frowned upon too. They’re also talking about using unnecessary keywords. The keyword ‘custom cigar humidor’ does, in fact, relate to the copy. But it’s not necessary.

The web is still absolutely rife with this type of copy. Altering the keywords won’t necessarily mean that a website does not face a Google penalty. Many marketers attempt to make the above more palatable to search engines by changing the keywords just slightly.

We sell unique custom cigar humidors. Our custom-made cigar humidors are handmade. If you’re thinking of buying a custom handmade gift cigar humidor, please contact our cigar humidor specialists at custom.cigar.humidors@example.com.

There’s no reason to believe that the second example is any more acceptable to Google than the first example, though there are a variety of reasons to believe it may be more effective. Of course, it’s also virtually unreadable.

blogFake Site Building and Content Scraping

This is an infamous churn and burn technique. A black hat marketer will create large volumes of fake sites with either spun content or content that they have pulled from other sources on the web. These sites have only one goal: to promote the site that they are advertising. And they are also in violation of Google’s standards, even if they’ve lawfully purchased the content that they are posting. But these campaigns can be very successful short-term, and that’s often all that the marketer is looking for.

Note that sites focused on content aggregation are also considered scraped content if they are not adding any value to the reader. That includes image, video and music sharing services. Sites such as Imgur, Pinterest, YouTube and Reddit would be excluded from being considered “scraped content” because they also offer value through social media and contenting.

spamComment Spam and User Spam

There’s a rather interesting loophole that some black hat marketers seek to exploit. We know that links on high authority sites will build authority. But those links don’t necessarily have to be posted by the site itself. Somewhere along the line, marketers realized that they could post links in comments on articles and that it would still register as originating from that domain. Google now expressly looks for this type of activity; it’s not very effective. But some marketers may see it as a sheer numbers game.

Comment spam is one of the main strategies that has given rise to negative SEO. It’s so easy for Google to block against that it is actually too effective of a dampener; competitors can use the strategy to make their competition look bad. Webmasters can protect themselves against receiving comment spam, but it’s difficult to protect themselves against spam linking to them being posted elsewhere.

User spam is related to this. Marketers may seek to spam a website that allows user submissions. Google will penalize sites for this as well, and it happens quite often — especially on message boards.It remains a popular technique because it’s cheap and because it garners traffic in a few ways. It isn’t just a search engine optimization technique; when done properly, it also draws in traffic from wherever the content was submitted.

cuffThe Consequences of Black Hat SEO

Once a website has been determined to use black hat SEO techniques, a Google penalty will usually be levied. We know from high profile cases that these penalties will often range anywhere between six months to a year and will push sites down in search engine rankings. Some repeat offenders will be banned from the search engine results page entirely. Penalties are not lifted unless the offender ceases their black hat activities.

It really isn’t a question of whether a person will be caught using black hat techniques — it’s a question of when. Google will inevitably catch up with any website; they see everything. And when they take down one website, they can take down any related websites. So why do people still use black hat SEO techniques?

Often, it’s because longevity isn’t a key part of their strategy. They may be marketers that are specifically geared towards a high customer turnover; they promise their customers the world and they achieve it, but only when they’re getting paid. But more commonly the users of black hat SEO techniques are just trying to make money. They launch sites, monetize them and — when caught — just ditch them and start again. A Google penalty doesn’t mean it’s over for these individuals, it just means a new game has begun.