Wednesday, March 18, 2015

5 Steps For Grouping Your Keywords - Content Marketing Strategy

In my last blog I talked about the major change in the way Google and other search engines are ranking keywords -- keyword groups vs. individual keywords -- and the major impact it is having on SEO and content marketing efforts.

Keyword Grouping for Best Content Marketing ResultsAfter receiving several email requests to share the best practices on how to group keywords, I decided to write a blog on that subject.  It also gave me a chance to play around with a new infographics maker tool called Piktochart. 

Summary of Steps from the Infographics:

Step 1: Talk To Your Customers
Talk to your customers.  Ask how do they refer to your product / service. Ask them how did they find you.  What are the keywords they used in the search engine query -- if that's how they found you.

Step 2: Talk To Your Support and Sales
Ask your support how your customers are referring to your solution when they are having a problem.  Ask your sales people the same question about how your prospects refer to your product.

Step 3: Conduct Competitive Research
Find out what are the keyword variations that your competitors are ranking for.  Run SEO tools on their site to find out what are their target keywords.  Then compare these with the keywords they rank for. The keywords that are not targeted but still ranked belong to one of the keyword groups.

Step 4: Use Google's Suggestions
Type your main keywords in the search engine and see what are Google's suggestions.  These may belong in the same group. Look into Google Adwords for related and suggested keywords.  Also look for specific queries in Adwords.

Step 5: Organize in Groups
Map out all the relevant keywords and organize them in logical groups -- based on the steps above and your subject matter knowledge.

Keep Testing!
This process will give you a starting point with the keyword groups.  Keep testing and updating your keyword group map -- since the groupings change and your competitors activities impact SERP rankings.

Some of the SEO tools that could be useful are Moz, SEMRush, Screaming Frog, Majestic SEO, and Positionly.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

A Major Shift in SEO and Content Marketing: Keywords vs. Concepts

One of the key trends discussed at SMX West 2015 is something we have been increasingly noticing from search engines -- focus on concepts vs. keywords.

This paradigm change has been causing shifts in SERP rankings for the last several months and we have been adjusting our SEO and content marketing strategy to align with it.

Concepts vs. keywords change is pretty fundamental and will most likely be continuously impacting your search engine rankings.  This article examines more details behind this change, discusses how it can affect your rankings, and provides five strategies for taking advantage of this trend.

Keywords vs. concepts/themes.  For years we have been focused on specific keywords.  We have been identifying target keywords,  monitoring their performances, and creating campaigns to improve our rankings.

Hard to Manage.  You can easily see how this SEO approach can get overwhelming and unmanageable.  Each product can have hundreds of keywords to target.  If you have multiple products, you may need to be tracking and promoting thousands of keywords.

How do you accomplish that? Do you create thousands of content pieces a month to rank better?  That sounds like a daunting task.  However, many companies have been doing exactly that -- either manually or by using tools to automate the process of creating individual content pages for each keyword.

Poor content quality.  It's obvious that it's impossible to create unique and engaging content for thousands of related words every week without astronomic budgets and resources.  As a result, the content produced through this strategy has been highly repetitive and lacked value.

Search quality issues.  These tactics allowed companies manipulate search engines for a while, resulting in low quality search results.  However, Google has been catching up with such tactics and penalizing low quality and duplicate content with Penguin and Panda updates.

And now a more fundamental change is happening.

Semantic search.  With the semantic search becoming more prevalent, Google is increasingly ranking groups of related keywords vs. individual ones.  The grouping criteria is based on the word order, paid/organic search history, contextual meaning, word relationships, content relevance, domain authority, and other factors.

Good news!  This means that your SEO work for specific keywords may result in uplifting your rankings for related keywords as well, even the ones you have not been specifically targeting.

Less on-page SEO.  It also means less emphasis on the on-page SEO -- less counting how many times specific keywords should show up on your web pages.  The practice of creating a page for each specific (related) keyword becomes mostly irrelevant.

Unexpected results.  On a flip side, you may discover wild swings in your target keywords rankings because these specific searches are not as compartmentalized as before.
They are viewed in a wider content of keyword groups. 

As a result, your efforts on individual keywords may not be as effective as before.  This could be especially the case if you have a better established competitor that dominates related keywords in SERPs.

Here are five recommendations on embracing this change and making the best out of it:
  • Do research and understand top keywords you want to focus on
  • Do monitor your individual keywords so you know how they perform and which competitors to focus on
  • Do try to understand how individual keywords are grouped in concepts / themes
  • Do create good quality and unique content around the themes/groupings you want focus on
  • Do use social channels to promote your content and generate high quality links
Also check out my blog on 5 steps to organize your keywords in groups for best SEO & content marketing results

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

9 Essential Principles For Successful PPC Strategies - B2B Marketing

Skydiving looks very simple when somebody else does it.  Beautiful skies.  Amazing views.  Adrenaline rushing!  So cool!

...Until you get up there.  Then things change.  All of the sudden the skies don't look as friendly.  The landscape below can be deadly.  Every detail matters a lot.  

The reality is that it never gets easy, especially when there may be an ambush waiting for you when you land. 

PPC looks simple as well, at least from the surface.  Load up the keywords, come up with an ad copy and a landing page, define your bids, and leads should be pouring in!

The reality is very different though.  Results are often disappointing. Time is wasted. Budgets are spent.  Bids are placed.   Yet there is no meaningful amount of leads. 

What's wrong with this picture?

Complexity.  Google Adwords have become an incredibly difficult platform loaded with an incredible amount of features.  Anything from defining the types of matches for your keywords to figuring out the right grouping for the best results and quality scores to what kind of words to use in the ad copy to what day and time to advertise, which geographies, and many other factors.

Competition.  A crowded market is like a battlefield.  It is likely that your competitors have dedicated at least as many resources and funds for Adwords as you have. Plus they may have a decent agency.

This makes a huge difference because a really good agency has best practices, specialized resources, and a privileged access to Google.  It would be almost impossible to win the game without similar resources.

Funds.  CPC increases every month in many competitive industries.  With more players and more money spent by each vendor, the cost of conversion goes up.  Even more importantly, the entry barrier goes up significantly.  This means that even with $10K per month you may not get meaningful results.  You may need a significantly larger budget and a rock star agency plus a great in-house resource to succeed.  

Lead Costs .  Even then, the cost of each lead may prove to not be worth the investment. 

This is a dark, yet a realistic picture I painted to instill reality into inexperienced marketers itching to try this solo and to help marketing professionals ground overly eager executives itching to see their company name and specific messages on the page 1 of Google search engine quickly. 

Bringing a parallel to military, it is the same as sending amateurs to fight a Special Forces unit and expecting amazing results.


9 Best PPC Practices

Yet, PPC programs do work.  Below are 9 recommendations on building a successful PPC program in B2B space.

1.  Define Your Goals. What are your goals?  Are you you looking to generate leads, increase brand awareness, or both?  It's critical to have a clear set of goals start.  Set realistic expectations for the initial success and growth afterwards.  

2.  Define Your Target Lead Types.  This is one of the most critical steps.  Define what kind of leads are you expecting to generate.  If you skip this step and start getting lower quality leads, your conversion economics may not work and you may end up spending a fortune on acquiring traffic that doesn't convert.   Check out recent research on this topic from Industry View (see the chart below).


3.  Reality / Economics.  Find out what are the CPCs for your target keywords.  Multiply by the conversation rates to calculate the expected cost of acquisition.  Add 10-15% for agency fees.  Is this number feasible for you?  If not, PPC may not be the right channel for you.  If it is, define the max amount you are willing to spend on each lead.  Calculate the delta you are willing to pay for the brand awareness.

4.  Find a good agency.
This is a tough one.  There are lots of OK agencies and terrible ones.  Things to look for is experience in your space, ability to assign an experienced resource, desire to spend enough time with your account, willingness to start with a smaller investment, an ability to show early results, and willingness to work with you if the initial results are not there.  Expect and be ready to go through several bad agencies till you find a good one.  
5.  Internal Resource.  You should expect to have an internal resource focused and later maybe even dedicated  to this program, because an external agency is never going to be as knowledgeable in your space as somebody from your organization. To be effective, this has to be a joint internal/agency effort.

6.  Start small.  
Start as small as it is feasible.  In some industries that may not be possible. Work with your agency to see what's the minimal investment that can yield meaningful results.  Then add a delta for experimenting.  In some cases this can be as high as 60%. 

7.  Time and resource expectations.
Budget time for experimenting with keywords, ad copies, landing pages, etc -- until you start seeing a steady flow of leads.  It may take anywhere from a week to a few months.  It is a common mistake to expect an immediate impact.  There are at least 20-30 parameters that can impact the results.  It will take time to identify these, fix them (sometimes multiple times), A/B test, and start seeing the impact.

8.  Expand. Expand into new keywords, geographies, PPC programs, etc. This will help you find the most optimal channels and bring down conversion costs. 

9.  Ramp up organic programs.
At the end of the day, you can't win a battle with just a single type of a weapon.

PPC is just one way to generate leads.  It is expensive.  It's complicated. As a result, very often it is not a scaleable way to generate leads.  

While you can sometimes make PPC economics work for you, you can get significantly better results when you apply the knowledge and expertise gained from PPC to your organic efforts, like SEO, content marketing, and social marketing. 

In our case, only 25% of our highest quality leads comes from PPC.  The rest come from organic efforts, like content marketing, social / community marketing, SEO, etc. 

Best of luck in your lead generation efforts!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

100% Inbound Lead Generation - Possible?

Is it possible to completely eliminate cold calling and other outbound activities that cost a ton and don't convert easily?

Yes, it is.  In 3 years, we have shut down all outbound activities, like cold calling and trade shows.

Meanwhile, we have scaled inbound activities, like content marketing, SEO, social and community marketing.

That strategy has paid off a lot.

 Here are some results:
  • 20x increase in the highest quality leads
  • 9x increase in cost of leads
  • 8x increase in conversion rates

This approach liberates sales people from the lead generation activities, providing them extra time to focus on converting these leads.

Here is the latest breakdown of high quality leads:
  • 65% - organic leads (content marketing, SEO, social, community, digital PR)
  • 25% - PPC
  • 10% - email nurturing

No trade shows last year.  No cold calls.  No paid content syndication.  No airport or freeway banners.  

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

5 Characters You Meet In Successful Modern Marketing Teams

What does a winning marketing team look like nowadays?

How different is it from 5 years ago?

There are many new challenges we face today.  There are also traditional marketing challenges that never went away.

- Create differentiated positioning
- Create & update messaging
- Establish thought leadership
- Establish a repeatable and scalable lead generation program
- Improve lead conversion rates  
- Decrease customer acquisition cost (CAC)
- Gain social and search visibility
- Support sales
- Build meaningful and accurate metrics 
- Collect and report daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly numbers  

Add all different programs, communication channels and angles that need to be built and maintained:
- Email nurturing
- Social media
- Industry communities
- Customer boards
- Gamification
- Blogs
- PR
- Analysts
... and much more

The process of addressing these challenges starts with an effective marketing team.  To build it, CMOs often have to reconstruct their existing teams.  Some skills are unchanged and are still in demand.  Others may not be needed anymore or may have morphed into new ones.  For example, marketing communications skill has transformed into product journalism and corporate reporting.  There are also brand new skills, like SEO Analytics & Messaging Manager.

Below are top 5 essential skills for today's marketing teams:

(NEW) Product Marketing++.  This skill is relatively unchanged. You still need somebody on your team that can develop in-depth product, customer and marketplace understanding.

This person has to be able to come up with clear product messaging, top differentiators -- things that none of your competitors can do and things that matter most to your customers.

This person will have to stay connected to your development team, as well as keep abreast of the market and competitive changes in order to update the core message as necessary.

The skill upgrade (the "++" component) comes in the ability to utilize the web, social media, hashtags, communities, SEO and other web tools to proactively conduct competitive research, industry trends analysis, message A/B testing, etc.

(NEW) Product Journalism and Corporate Reporting.  (f.k.a. Marketing Communications).

Yes, MarComm is dead.  The time of fluffy and meaningless collateral materials is gone.  In today's world, unique and engaging content is the king!   

In my previous blog entry I talked about the heroes and zeroes of content marketing.  You definitely want to be looking for a hero -- somebody that has a very creative way of telling your story.  This person will break down the higher-level message into many engaging, shareable and (when possible) viral product, customer and industry stories.

Once developed, these stories will have to be further modified, enhanced and formatted to fit well into different channels, e.g. blog entries, press releases, TTL+description, social media blurbs, community posts, emails (or series of emails), etc.

In an essence, each story becomes a mini-launch of content that drives your SEO, improves your thought leadership position, engages your prospects and customers, and generates high quality leads.

It took me a while to figure out the core skill set requirements and find the right fit for this position.  I interviewed lots of candidates with marketing communications and product marketing backgrounds, but none of them fit the bill. However, I had a really good luck with finding and hiring people with journalistic experience that have been writing to the audience we are marketing to.

(NEW) SEO Analytics & Messaging.

For many CMOs SEO remains a black box.  Yet, there is no dark magic in using SEO to maximize results and generate revenue.  No shady practice of buying links.  No figuring out how many times a certain keyword has to appear on a page.

There are essentially two important skills here:

1.  Ability to find & utilize tools to find relevant information, like numbers, keywords, content utilization, etc.

2.  Making sense out of these numbers in order to identify trends, provide actionable suggestions on keywords, landing pages, content needs, inbound lead generation opportunities and lead hacks.

The ideal SEO analytics person will have both analytical and creative skills.  There is an increasing number of marketing tools that generate lots of interesting data.  But it takes a skill to translate numbers into actionable suggestions.  For example, Google Analytics gives you tons of data on site visits.  Yet, most of it is buried and is accessible only through custom reporting.  A good SEO analytics person will figure out how to make sense out of this data and find relevant and meaningful trends that could show the flow of most valuable visitors, pages and assets, as well as how they change overtime.

A great SEO analytics person will work with your SEO agency to research the latest trends, explore different tools to give you an edge against competition in defining the most valuable keywords, reference sites, competitive moves, link building and PR opportunities (that your PR team / agency has most likely missed).

Ultimately, 80% of your inbound marketing success depends on the right messaging and whether or not you are focusing on the right keywords.  Use shortcuts here and you can spend millions on your inbound efforts and not get any meaningful results.

Marketing Automation & SFDC Black Belt.  

Marketing automation tools have been around for a while. There are many ways you can use them - from a rudimentary bulk email sending to sophisticated lead scoring, establishing and capturing new types of leads, customer flows, and generating in-depth metrics and powerful dashboards.

Every single one of these areas can get really complex, really quickly.  Yet, it can make a huge difference in your bottom line results.

For example, email marketing is a seemingly simple concept, but it has quite a few complexities that can generate results anywhere from no leads to hundreds of leads.

Some of these factors include the ability to create mobile-friendly content, come up with effective subject lines, pick conversion-friendly calls to action, A/B test 5-10 variables, decide on HTML vs. Text vs. Video, pick the most optimal colors, frequency, days of week and times of the day, figure out how to categorize and break down your database, etc.

There is also lots of data that exists in sales and marketing automation tools.  It is important to understand and establish a regular flow of critical metrics, such as conversion rates (lead to oppty; oppty to deal), conversion times, numbers of touches, lead sources breakdown, lead lifecycles, etc.

It will bring a complete transparency to marketing activities, as well as a clear understanding of which marketing campaigns do work and which don't.  It will allow to shift priorities and marketing budgets to the programs with the best ROI.

For this role, you may want to find a person that has strong skills in analytics, data visualization, presentation, multi-tasking and project management.

Employee vs. Outsourcing.  Project Management.  

Use contractors in as many areas as possible.  Avoid the team bloat and racking up costs that unnecessarily increase your CAC .

However, blindly outsourcing can be a mistake as well.  The key thing is finding a working balance for each of critical marketing micro-skills.

For example, SEO and PPC have a very technical component, as well as creative one.

For the technical component, it is almost impossible to match the depth of a good SEO or PPC agency that spends 100% of their time on learning technical details as well as keeping up with the latest trends and changes from Google.  It is clearly a good idea to outsource that part.

However, no agency is ever going to develop an intimate understanding of your customer base and your industry.  They will never be able to completely nail down your keywords.  You may want to have your SEO and content person (people) working closely with the SEO agency for the best results.

That approach works well with other areas too, such as content creation, graphics design, landing page coding, etc.

Needless to say, the more contractors you have, the harder it is to manage them.  So it is important to have a team member with strong project management skills to keep all the trains moving and on track.  Since the marketing automation person has to be a good project manager too, you may want to combine these two roles in one.

Not a Recipe.  Naturally, each company and industry is different.  There is no one size fits all recipe for building a winning marketing team.  While the skills above are critical and often essential, you will have to assess your specific needs and scale requirements.  That may call for adding other skills and team members, e.g. channel marketing, event coordination, lead qualification, etc.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Content Marketing Heroes & Zeroes: Which Are You?

Here is the current marketing reality:  Disruptive (yet relevant) content generates leads and sales.  Fluff gets punished!  It wastes marketing dollars, sinks organizations and even companies.

Interesting! If I can use just a single word to describe a successful content marketing effort, it would be "interesting."  If I could add another word, it would be "disruptive".

Interesting content generates sales and has a hugely positive effect on brands.  Here is why:

1.  People that come across that content and find it interesting and relevant usually take an action (if that is the intended outcome).  It may be a buying action (read leads and $$$) or something else.

2.  Viewers that find your content intriguing enough to share with others, may do so by using social and community channels.  This will bring more qualified visitors, leads and sales.

3. Social media sharing also generates positive signals for search engines. People may link to the pages with interesting content.  Positive social response, links and other signals (like Google finding the content relevant for ranking against target high value key phrases), may catapult your content to page 1 of organic search results, generating significant amount of interest, leads and sales -- today, tomorrow and for a long time to come -- without requiring additional investments or efforts.

Boring!  Boring content and fluff have the opposite effect on marketing teams and companies.

1.  Boring content is created.  Social feeds are written. Collateral materials are generated.  Everything seems to be working well.  Except all these activities generate almost no leads.  Marketing budgets get wasted. 

2.  Boring content doesn't get readers.  People don't share, link or discuss such content.  Search engines largely ignore the pages with boring content.  Industry communities laugh at that content.  Brands get tarnished and ridiculed by the very people they are trying to influence and engage.

3.  Organic search lead generation channel becomes completely dead, because the product is nowhere to be found in organic search results for valuable keywords.

With no high quality leads coming from social, community, organic search and referral channels, companies with fluff content and ineffective content marketing teams are forced to look for alternative lead generation sources that are much more expensive and ineffective, like cold calling. This can cause both the marketing organization and later the product/company to fail.

Google on "boring".  Matt Cutts, Google's spam tzar, recently stated that,

"there’s a little bit of reinforcement that helps force you to either be interesting or say interesting things or think hard about how to make something compelling."

Yet, most of content on web sites, blogs and vendor-posted social media outlets is generic and extremely boring.

Here is an example from Symantec's SMB site"We understand that you want solutions to work, no matter what. We take pride in providing our industry-leading technology to small and medium businesses in a way that’s powerful enough to protect an enterprise-sized company, yet designed for smaller companies."

Here is another example -- this one is from Cisco's web site: "These solutions can help you get the full value of your investment in network architecture and technologies to support today's businesses, and provide the framework to rapidly evolve over time to meet customers' changing needs."

Both statements say nothing, yet can be applied to thousands of products.

Skill Set.  So where is the disconnect?  It's in the skill gap between yesterday's content producers (MarComm) that generate boring and fluffy materials and today's content needs -- fresh, unique and to the point.

It is also in lack of understanding of the importance and the potential of lead generation using content marketing by marketing and other executives.

More on the skills necessary for a successful marketing content strategy in my next blog entry.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Cycling: 5 Branding and Social Media Lessons Learned

Cycling. Is. An. Obsession.

Cycling for me is a combination of exploring the nature, endurance training and creative thinking.  It is also about constantly pushing my physical and mental limits.

It started as casual riding on a hybrid bike.  Then it turned into a regular exercise.  It soon progressed into commuting, century and group rides, cyclocross and climbs.  I have ridden over 2,000 miles and climbed 35,000 feet so far this year.  

My cycling obsession got me actively working on myself and my bikes.  It is amazing how much the Web and social media can tell about brands.  Combine that with brick and mortar presence, and it is fairly easy to put together a realistic brand image.

Below are 5 key elements of telling a brand story online, engaging the target audience and growing the customer base with examples from my latest experiences with bike companies.

1.  Product Info On The Web.   In this day and age it is common for almost all companies to have at least a generic web site.  Majority of bike brands are no exception -- they seem to have decent web sites and product pages describing bike details and specifications.  At the surface, however, most of these bikes can look similar. Same frame materials (carbon, aluminum, steel and titanium) and same components (Shimano, SRAM and Campi).

This said, some brands find ways to differentiate themselves by telling a unique story behind a brand or a product.  Video is a great media for that.  For example, the following video from #Specialized tells an informative and credible story:

This story accomplishes a lot.  First, it comes from a product person that has a very similar profile with a target buyer.  He appears very straight forward, honest and passionate.  Second, the story covers everyday usage, feature descriptions and championship pedigree.  It is very down to earth and believable.

2.  Brand Story Over Social Media: Social Media is a great way to tell a brand or a model story.  For example, people that "like" a brand on Facebook are usually very interested in following the brand and finding out what's new on an ongoing basis.  One can't get a much more captive audience for telling a great story that Facebook page followers.  But there has to be a story to be told and it has to be interesting.

On the contrary, one of the worst things to do in that case is to post generic, quick sale-oriented, useless posts with images like this one from #RaleighUSA:

The problem with this post is that there is no story.  It is a blank and a lazy statement.

Raleigh makes decent bikes.  I own one and I like it a lot (photo on the left).  I am confident there are plenty of stories out there that can really connect with people that follow this brand.

For example, why not break down the  post above into a series of 5-10 real life stories about interesting people in these races, their achievements, their struggles, along with some engaging images?

Why not take a page from #Bianchi's book?

They posted a fun photo (on the left) that grabs attention, inspires re-posts and drives people to the brand.

It doesn't scream "buy me", it looks really cool and invites people to explore and experience new and cool things.

Here is another good post on Bianchi's Facebook page that tells a story:

3.  Social Media Posting Frequency and Timing.  It is important to find the right frequency of social media posts to avoid fatiguing the audience with too many of them or getting forgotten with too few.

Timing of the posts is critical as well.  There is only a small window of opportunity for the target audience to notice an entry and get engaged.  You can have the best content at the wrong time and it will be ineffective and may go unnoticed.

A/B testing is really useful in identifying days of the week and times of the day when the message is viewed most and when the audience is really engaged.

4.  Support Via Social Media.  This is a big one.  Once a brand has a social media channel that is open for anyone to post, it is important for the company behind that brand to stay on top of it.  Timely response and useful help is critical.  It can  influence a buying decision, elevate or damage the brand.

For example, Specialized does a fantastic job supporting its community.  Here is a screenshot captured by CanProve tool.

If you read the comments, you can see what an excellent job Specialized did responding to this thread.  BTW, they handled a problem I had with one of my bikes the same way.  This type of response instills confidence that the company stands behind its products and its customers.

Contrast that with a response from Cannondale.  Here is a link and a screenshot from their FB page:

Based on this (and other similar posts) and lack of any response from Cannondale on their own Facebook page, I would never buy a bike from them, especially an expensive one.

The math is simple here.  If Cannondale loses 1 customer per day due to their Facebook screw-ups, with an average bike price of $1,000, their loss is over $350K per year!!!  That number can grow into millions if you factor in the negative word of mouth this creates.

5.  Content Strategy & Company DNA

Like in many other industries, it is critical for bike brands to have a solid content strategy and content / social media manager that oversees online communities and serves as a customer ambassador.

It is a relatively easy task when the company DNA supports it.

However, it is almost an impossible task in a large corporation with many brands, yet no particular passion towards any single one of them, and a focus on revenue and margins only.

Most of people I know want to deal with brands that share their passion for bikes, companies that employ cyclists and are in sync with their customers.  Specialized is a great example of such a company.  Their products, employees and online communications tell a consistent story of excellence and great customer care.

With all this in mind, when the time comes for getting my next bike, Specialized (Roubaix SL4) is definitely going to be my choice: