Back to Basics: What Is Inbound Marketing?

New to inbound marketing? Or, have you been randomly creating content without quite knowing why it’s a requirement for inbound marketing?

Inbound and content marketing pull prospects toward you instead of having you and your firm relentlessly hunt them down. In this model, the customer is in control. They check out their options and only make contact with a seller when they are ready to buy. To ensure that your product is the one that they choose, you need to lead them through the buying phases with inbound methodology. The steps along the way:

Research

Before you write a single piece of content, know who you are writing to. Begin by identifying your best prospects. Learn demographic information like their age, income and other data. Study their online habits. It can help to create buyer personas, which are semi-fictional composite characters that represent people who may buy your brand.

Start developing a list of keywords your potential customers may search. This is a list of likely keywords that users search when they hit Google to look for products in your industry. It should be updated frequently. Include search popularity information as well as related keywords. Don’t necessarily worry about hitting every one. With Hummingbird’s semantic search, synonyms and near matches are likely to bring in traffic, as well.

SEO isn’t everything, but, search engines remain one of the best ways for your business to be found. By starting with the terms surfers use most, you can increase your chances of your content indexing high in the search results.

Creation

Over half of all purchases start with a search engine query. Ensure that your site comes up in the results by creating relevant, useful keyword-rich content.

Blogging is the quickest and most basic place to start. Create content that educates and answers prospects’ questions. You should also be posting to social networking platforms. This can include links to your content, as well as content designed specifically for your social media account.

As you branch out, your content should include a variety of types of media: blog posts, articles, infographics, photos, social media posts, ebooks and white papers are all potential examples. The right mix for your brand will depend on your product and your audience.

Engagement and Conversion

Once the prospect is on your site, it is important to capture some information to continue with the buyer’s journey. Put premium content behind forms so that you can capture contact information. The forms should be easy and painless to fill out; otherwise, impatient readers may bounce.

Entice visitors to sign up for email offers and updates. This makes it easy for you to keep in contact and nurture the lead. Email series and regular newsletters are both great options for keeping your business in prospects’ minds as they work toward a buying decision.

It frequently takes many touches to close a sale. Create content that addresses all stages of the buyers journey so that you can be there with them as they continue to research and narrow down their choices.

Closing

This is where your lead becomes a client. Create landing pages for offers that are clear, compelling and end with a precise call-to-action. Once a decision is made, make buying as friction-free and easy as possible.

Keep track of the details about your customers using good customer relationship management (CRM) software. This allows you to develop a better idea of who your buyers are, which allows you to make content that is more personalized and directly addresses their needs.

Delight

Do everything in your power to ensure that your customer is happy. Check in with customer satisfaction surveys. Monitor social media so that you can respond quickly when a customer posts there with an issue or a gripe. Delighting your customers doesn’t just bring them back. It makes them advocates on your behalf, bringing you new prospects you may not have encountered without them. By always delivering an excellent product and service, you turn happy customers into advocates and champions of your brand.

Content Marketing and the CTA: Stop Flirting and Get a Room

barstoolSave the flirting for the barstool. Your marketing content should be as bold as a hooker with a mortgage. Yes, you’re attracted. Yes, you’re ready to hook up. Yes, you have a condom in your shoe.

When you have a specific goal in mind for those reading your marketing content, don’t play coy. Spell it out by adding a call-to-action.

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Make it clear that your address on the Internet is a consensual space – both parties should benefit from the give and take.

podcastAsk for What You Want

Maybe you want to encourage visitors to your blog to subscribe to your podcasts? Maybe you wish more readers would share your witty offerings to Tumblr and Twitter? And wouldn’t it be great if visitors left their email addresses behind so you could launch a more effective and far-reaching marketing campaign?

Indeed it would.

But you might never know if you don’t ask.

Make it as easy as possible for visitors to your site to do exactly what you desire by taking them boldly by the hand, leading them to the bed, and satisfying them with the stamina of your awesome marketing prowess.

Creating quality content never felt so good.

This is what’s referred to in the business as adding a call-to-action, and it serves a single purpose:  To encourage a conversion.

cementAdd Content Links to Cement the Deal

Once you’ve caught your reader’s interest, finalize the transaction by hyperlinking the text to your CTAs. According to the Content Marketing Institute, a simple path to conversion is best. Making readers click through multiple links to get where they want to go is a no-no. Every frustrated reader is a lost conversion, and that’s the one debacle you want most to avoid.

But just linking to your call-to-action isn’t enough. Where you place it on the page is important too. Your most important CTA – the BIG one – goes in the upper right corner in what newspaper editors used to call “the space above the fold.” This is the corner where the most action occurs – the Bourbon Street of web addresses – if you will. Whatever content you place here will experience the wonders of Mardi Gras all day long.

fatstacksZoom In for the Money Shot

Once you’ve attracted your reader, impressed him with your content marketing skills, and guided him to click-through conversion, it’s time to sit back and reap the rewards. Maybe you’ve successfully subscribed him to your blog. Maybe you’ve just sold him your e-book. Maybe you’ve convinced him to sign up for your next paid webinar.

Maybe you only inspired him to leave a comment.

But he did exactly what you wanted him to do, and that’s good, effective marketing.

And it happened because of your calls-to-action.

Now get busy making it all worth his while.

 

 

Should You Be Worried About the Content Glut?

If you’ve been following content marketing trends, you’ve probably seen a lot of hand-wringing about an overabundance of content online. And, superficially, it can seem like we are on the precipice of some sort of content apocalypse, where your content will get lost in the torrents of new material being pumped out onto the ‘net every day. But, when you examine the issue more closely, you can see that there isn’t really as much to worry about as you might think.

A few reasons it doesn’t matter:

Most Content Is Pretty Ephemeral

While there are a lot of pieces of content that continue to perform well for months or even years after they’re posted, they are the exception, not the rule. In general, a surfer is not going to click through pages and pages of blog posts. So, adding fresh posts is a strategy that makes sense.

No one worries that there have been too many issues of specific magazines. Publishers understand that the newly released content is going to get eyes and that older stuff will lose relevance.

Things Change

No matter what industry you are in, technologies, laws and trends are going to change. So, someone’s five-year-old “How to Find the Most Efficient Thermostat” article will be sorely out of date. Creating or commissioning new content means being able to provide your surfers with the most up-to-date information.

Your Content Should Reflect the Voice of Your Brand

If you are creating content that is identical to what’s offered on other sites in your industry, then the content glut is a problem for you. But, you can set yourself apart by ensuring that what appears on your site, your social media pages and in your other offerings reflects your brand. Is your voice conversational? Authoritative? Do you deal with a young demographic, or are you more popular with the Baby Boomers? The content materials you create should fit the look and feel of your site.

Your Content Should Be Personalized to Your Audience

So a hundred insurance agencies have published blog posts about life insurance. So what? If you deal with local customers, agencies in the other 49 states are not your competition. Emphasize that by localizing content. Now that you’ve narrowed it down, you can get to work differentiating yourself from those in your market. This can be accomplished, in part, by speaking directly to the audience you want and the audience you have. If you work in an area with high flood risk, for instance, address that on your blog. If your local area has a large elderly population, write with their concerns in mind.

With today’s empowered consumers, content marketing is not going away. To ensure that you continue to reap the benefits, make sure that your content is personalized to your audience and your area, up to date and useful to the customers you want to attract.

 

Sidestepping the Worst Issues With Outsourced Content Marketing

Outsourcing doesn’t have to be a dirty word. Many companies successfully outsource their content marketing strategy to both save money and tap a large pool of specialized talent, but it does take a little work. If not properly managed, flaky workers, inconsistencies and missed deadlines can quickly sink even the most thoroughly planned content marketing campaign. But when managed successfully, outsourcing will give you access to content that is of a far greater quality than could otherwise be achieved.

Create a Complete, Concise Content Packet

checklist

  • Pay attention to form and content. Don’t take anything for granted. All writers are different and may be coming in with different assumptions.
  • Show, don’t tell. A good sample is worth its weight in gold. It’s far easier to provide one or more samples than try to express what you want in directions.
  • Be brief. The longer your instructions are, the less likely it is that someone is going to read through all of them. This is just an unfortunate truth.

management2 Work With a Dedicated Content Marketing Team

While it may be cheaper to upload your projects piecemeal and go with the lowest bidder each time, it’s not going to give you a cohesive content marketing strategy. Even if you find a single writer that you know you can work with in the future, you’re at their mercy; if they leave you, you need to go through the entire process again. After a certain point, the process becomes more costly than it’s worth. If you choose a single writer, choose one who is very well-established within your industry and will remain available to you. A small, dedicated team will give you more flexibility for larger scale projects.

communicateAlways Have a Content Manager

The role of a content manager is extremely important. A content manager should curate content, ensuring that all content is consistent and up to current quality standards. Content managers will often polish pieces, giving them a full editing pass, checking facts and adding relevant formatting and images. Without a single person ensuring the quality of the work, quality will quickly become erratic. If you’re working with a content marketing team, it’s likely they will already have a manager in charge. If not, it’s important to find someone who can continuously monitor the quality of your content.

communicate effectivelyCommunicate Effectively

  • Express deadlines and pay rates clearly from the beginning. It will expedite the process and ensure that you get what you want when you need it.
  • Provide specific feedback — even on work that is good but not great. Writers will look to this feedback to improve and will not be able to improve otherwise.
  • Be clear about scope. If you’re going to need the writer for future work, let them know. This will make it easier to secure them in the future.

stopWatch for the Red Flags

You know how they say “When someone tells you who they are, believe them the first time”? It’s great advice for all types of relationships, including business relationships. Any hitches you encounter during a first job with a new writer or content marketing team is probably going to set the tone of your future relationship. Were they fast, courteous and accurate? You’ve probably struck gold. Were they slow, ineffective and off the mark? Unless your directions were very poor, this is likely to continue. Don’t feel as though you need to commit to something that just isn’t working; it will only frustrate you in the long run.

green grassAvoid “Grass is Greener” Syndrome

As you optimize your content strategy, it can be tempting to try out new content teams and new writers. Testing is a fantastic idea; you can bring in new perspectives and potentially get lower bids. Flipping from one writer to another at a rapid pace, however, is a bad idea. It doesn’t give your content strategy any time to settle nor does it give each writer time to acclimate, ultimately creating an incoherent jumble rather than a cohesive whole. Often, companies think that they can get work done better or cheaper and end up trying out a long sequence of writers… only to find that, at the end of the process, the original writer that they had is no longer available for their work.

Outsourcing effectively requires that you be very clear about your expectations and that you conscientiously manage the content that you bring in. The benefits to outsourcing are numerous: you have a wealth of talent to choose from, you have complete flexibility on a project-by-project basis and you pay only for the services that you need. But the drawbacks exist, too: you need to invest some time in finding dependable people. Outsourcing will only be as effective as your outsourced talent is, regardless of budget and content goals.

Is the next big thing in marketing… “anti-marketing”?

Read this. Or don't.

All day every day, we are bombarded by promotional messages. When you head to a ballgame or concert, chances are you’re going to a place with a name like Staples Center, St. Pete Times Forum or, gods help us, the 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheater. We consume free content online, but only because our every action is sold to marketers who direct ever more personalized advertising in our directions.

As a result, we’ve become pretty much blind to all of the overt marketing messages we face every day. According to marketing juggernauts HubSpot, the average person sees over 1,700 banner ads every month, but, they’re more likely to complete Navy Seal training than they are to click one. And, when you wind up on a page with tossed together, heavily promotional “localized” content, you probably hit the back button before you’ve read a couple of lines.

The digital marketing world is obsessed with quick conversions. Because you can access data instantly, you want to see those numbers change in front of your eyes. But, successful marketing is more like growing a tree than planting bamboo. To win the long game, your content marketing needs to be divorced from any ambitions to get immediate conversions. The winners of the content game will:

1. Forget the promotional message. Did you open your eyes this morning and think, “gee, I’d really love to increase my HVAC guy’s marketing ROI.” Because, why would you? All those details are important to him but have nothing to do with your life. (Unless you’re also his marketing pro. In that case, carry on.) Your customers are no different. They spend their time thinking about their own personal concerns. Your latest promo or your growth into a new market isn’t really of concern to them.

2. Provide content that is actual useful and interesting to your audience. This one should be a no-brainer. If you sell suitcases, commission content about travel. Lawncare companies can talk about how to recognize common lawn pests. Think about the questions that your potential customers have and do your best to answer them in a friendly and helpful way.

3. Don’t worry about giving away too much. A lot of people doing marketing online feel that their content should position their product as the answer to customers’ needs. But, this can be a self-defeating approach. First, it’s often disingenuous. While your product is an answer, there’s obviously some self-interest at play when you suggest it as the sole solution. Instead, don’t be afraid to give options, including potential competitors and DIY choices. In many cases, people will discover that the process is more involved or time consuming than they’d thought and decide to hire a pro (you) after all.

4. Be consistent, but don’t pile it on. If you commission too much content, a few different outcomes are possible: you’ll wind up overspending and never getting the full value from the content on your site. The content will be poorly optimized for your needs and won’t get read by surfers. Or, if you economize, it will be poor quality and serve no purpose beyond a temporary search engine ranking bump. Content producers often find that their best-performing posts continue to deliver leads months or even years after they’re posted. Do your best to make every post quality, even if it means posting less.

When you calm down and stop worrying about instant conversions, you open up the door for longer, more satisfying customer relationships. Take the slow way, and you’ll have better content that converts well over time, and less of a chance of turning prospects off.

 

Why Your Content Marketing Campaign Is Broken

You were lured in by promises of easy customer acquisition, but it’s six months in and you’re not seeing any results. Content marketing is supposed to do everything for you, isn’t it? So why isn’t it working? Content marketing has been touted as a “magic bullet” for businesses, but for many the term has become vague and meaningless. When content marketing strays too far from its basic premise, it becomes ineffective… and even potentially harmful.

promiseYou’re Failing to Deliver on Your Promises

Bait-and-switch tactics are great for building pointless traffic but terrible for customer acquisition. If you create the promise of useful content in the mind of the consumer and then ultimately fail to deliver, they will eventually develop a prejudice against you and your company. Your content should always be exactly what it promises to be, building consumer faith over time. After all, if a company can’t produce trustworthy content, why should anyone believe that they can produce a quality service or product?

businessYou’re Focusing on Your Company, Not Your Customers

It’s easy to get overly enthusiastic about your company, your messaging and your story. Passion is good, but ignoring the customer is not. Your company’s branding is not a message unto itself, it’s the vehicle by which messages are relayed. Focus on fulfilling your customer’s curiosity and needs — that’s what content marketing is all about. If you give your customer something that they want, they will seek you out.

planYou’re Winging It

Failing to analyze your content marketing strategy is setting yourself up for failure. Without careful analysis, it’s impossible for you to know whether your strategies are working or not. Still, many companies don’t have any form of documented content marketing strategy, and it’s easy to see why. Content marketing has been held up as an “easy” fix: just set and forget. And, in truth, content marketing used to be that simple — before everyone else started their own content marketing campaigns. But it’s just not that simple anymore.

fishYou’re a Small Fish in a Big Pond

You can’t deliver generic or unfocused content and expect to succeed; the market is simply too vast. There is a reason why every digital marketer out there suggests that you find a niche and stick to it. A small plumbing service putting out reams of generic plumbing-related content will be competing directly with national chains. The guppy will be devoured by the shark. And all other analogies to that effect. Basically, you need to create your own small ecosystem in which you can thrive.

competition2You’re Ignoring Your Direct Competition

Content marketing is no longer a marketing tip, trick or secret; content marketing is now an industry standard. The companies that you are competing with are aggressively moving forward in their own content marketing campaigns, so it stands to reason that you need to be better than them. Find areas in which they are failing to produce and compensate in your own campaigns; likewise, avoid going head to head with them in areas in which you really can’t compete.

rocksYou’re Paying Too Much Attention to Quantity

Throwing piece after piece of poor quality content at your audience is like collecting buckets full of rocks in hopes of discovering a diamond. You aren’t likely to yield results before your customer gets bored and leaves. It’s better to create smaller quantities of polished content than try to dazzle your customers with a quarry of unusable slush. There is an economic component to this as well; content that is of a high enough quality will grow legs and remain relevant for some time. Content that has just been developed for the sake of content will quickly become obsolete.

searchYou’re Unbalanced

Search and social are the two major cornerstones of any content marketing campaign. The challenge is that each of them need to be tackled separately; search engine optimized content isn’t necessarily shareworthy content, and the opposite is also true. If you aren’t paying attention to both aspects of your marketing strategy, you’re likely not achieving the reach that you deserve.

Content marketing has to remain true to its roots if it is to be effective. Not every piece of content is “content marketing” quality, and throwing content at a wall to see what sticks is not a viable content marketing strategy. Content marketing is based on a simple premise: creating valuable, unique content that fulfills a customer’s needs.