8 Ways to Lose a Link

Content marketing means creating content with a purpose. For every piece of how to lose linkscontent you create, you should have a specific goal (or usually, several) in mind that you want it to achieve.

If you care at all about SEO – and I’m not sure I’ve met a content marketer that doesn’t – then one important goal you should have for blog posts is earning links. While the factors Google uses to determine search rankings are complicated, backlinks (quality ones, in particular) are still arguably the most important factor.

And one of the biggest factors involved in earning links is appealing to writers. We’re the ones who do most of that linking.

Let me assure you that we’re not spending our days considering whether or not we’ll make or break brands in our decisions about what to link to in our articles. We’re just trying to write the best, most useful content for our clients and their readers.

We’re not thinking about you, but you can benefit from thinking about us and understanding what goes through our heads when we decide whether or not a piece of content we come across is worthy of that link.

Just like anyone, we have our standards and pet peeves – sins that will make us immediately click off a page and refuse to consider it a worthy authority for our readers. To help you avoid inadvertently losing out on a link, I surveyed a few colleagues to better understand what makes all of us tick and decide a link is not worthy of our love.

8 Sins to Avoid if You Care About Building Links

1.    A bad website design

If your website looks like it was built in 1999 and hasn’t had an update since, it won’t look authoritative to me (or any of your other visitors). I’m not the only one who feels this way, Content Strategist and Author Leah Levy told me “I wouldn’t link to a piece if the site looks spammy — that is, it has an outdated design.”

“Spammy” is about the last word you want people to use to describe your website or content. The quality of the content itself won’t matter much if it lives on a website that looks so cheap and old that no one can get past the design.

As Linda Dessau, the founder of Content Mastery Guide, put it “Since a link is an endorsement, I steer clear of sites that look outdated or unprofessional. I want to be associated with people and businesses that have a polished and professional image.”

2.    Sloppy writing

Part of our job is paying attention to things like spelling, word choice, and sentence structure. When we encounter something that’s sloppily written or riddled with typos, you can bet we notice.

Linking to something that clearly no one bothered to proofread would make me look bad. If you can’t be bothered to take the time to read over your blog posts (or hire someone to do so) to make sure they make sense and don’t include any embarrassing errors, then writers won’t bother to share or link to them.

And it’s not just about writers nitpicking, sloppy writing makes you look untrustworthy. Leah agrees, she told me, “I wouldn’t link to anything with clear spelling or grammatical errors (nor would I trust it).”

3.    Bad UX

A good website design isn’t just about making sure you don’t look stuck in the 90’s, you also want to make sure people find your site easy to navigate and pleasant to be on.

Unfortunately, many businesses are callously sacrificing good UX in attempts to get more email sign ups and clicks. Pretty much anyone you talk to will have their opinions on what makes for bad UX (although not everyone would know to call it that).

For me it includes pop ups that block out the text and blog posts split needlessly between several pages when they could all be on one (slideshow posts are notorious offenders). I’ll put up with a certain amount of that on sites that are established enough or if the content is really useful. Normally though, I click away and find something else.

Freelance writer Susan Johnston Taylor has her own list of UX dislikes: ““If a site is littered with Google ads, broken links or typos, it doesn’t seem very credible.

As does writer and editor Christine Moline of Jane Doe Ink, who told me, “I wouldn’t link to a poorly organized post or any pages cluttered with ads.”

Linda added a couple more issues to the list: “I screen for overly aggressive or annoying pop-ups, sites that are slow to load or aren’t mobile-friendly.”

All told, different descriptions of bad user experience accounted for the most common answer I received from writers.

Just to reiterate, the final list of UX issues that will make writers click away comes to:

  • Annoying pop ups
  • Articles split into too many pages
  • Lots of ads
  • Broken links
  • Slow loading times
  • Sites that aren’t mobile friendly

If you’re prioritizing getting email sign ups or ad money over the experience visitors will have on your website, know that may be costing you links.

4.    Overly promotional content

When you’re paying for content (or investing a lot of time in it), it’s hard to set aside the idea of promoting yourself. I get it. You want a direct payoff for what you put into it.

When you make your content all about you though, it makes it come off as less trustworthy.

I head from multiple writers that overly promotional content was a no-no in their linking choices, but writer and content maven Phaedra Hise had the most to say on the subject: “I don’t link to anything that’s too promotional. I’m really picky about that – if it’s too promotional I might even link to it as an example of what NOT to do, but usually I don’t even like to give that kind of publicity.”

I mean, links are nice, but you don’t want to get one by becoming a writer’s example of what not to do.

5.    A statistic without a link or citation

None of the other writers mentioned it, but this is one of my personal rules. If your article mentions a statistic without telling me where it’s from, you will immediately lose my trust.

The thing is, many of us think we know statistics we don’t. I’ve come across the same statistic casually mentioned in article after article that I’ve never been able to track down to a source.

Sometimes the source is a research report that costs hundreds of dollars, so I understand if not every statistic can be easily linked to. But make sure you let me know which report that costs hundreds of dollars it’s from so I’m willing to at least take your word that it’s real.

I can only speak for myself on this one, but if you ever want a link from me, make sure you cite your sources.

6.    Outdated information

A lot of industries move fast. If your blog post from three years ago says something that’s no longer true, then it’s losing value in the link economy.

Says Susan, “If a post is several years old or clearly references outdated information, I’d try to find a more recent post to make sure I’m linking to something that’s still current.”

That doesn’t mean your old posts are useless, just that you should make a project out of updating them now and then. In particular, any posts you have that are popular and bringing in traffic now should be revisited so you can see if there’s a good opportunity to update any of them for accuracy.

7.    Lack of authenticity

This relates somewhat back to overly promotional content, if you come off like you’re trying too hard or acting like something you’re not, people will notice.

Barry Feldman, founder of Feldman Creative put it at the top of his list of things he won’t link to: “Posts lacking personality. I think you can offer a lot of knowledge, but I’d rather not align my brand with yours if it’s boring. And that represents 90% of content marketers, sorry to say.“

The good news is that if 90% of marketers are doing it wrong, then bringing some real personality to your writing is a good way to differentiate yourself.

On a related note, Carol Tice, author of the recent ebook Small Blog Big Income and the blog Make a Living Writing , cited one of her biggest dealbreakers as when “the blog author is pretending to be an authority when they really just started doing the thing they write about.

There’s a definite value to positioning yourself as a thought leader or expert – but only if you have the knowledge and experience to back it up.

8.    Moral reputation

Carol had another big sin that she mentioned: “I won’t link to posts on the Huffington Post due to its policy of not paying writers, since I am an advocate for fair writer pay.”

She’s the only one of the writers I talked to that mentioned this particular point, but I suspect we’ve all shied away from visiting or linking to a website if we know the brand represents something we disagree with.

Be careful what you stand for and how you treat your employees and contractors. If you gain a reputation for being about something that many writers don’t agree with, they’ll be quick to find another resource to go with instead.

Conclusion

To summarize, the eight deadly sins that will lose you links are:

  • An outdated website
  • Sloppy writing and typos
  • A bad user experience
  • Being overly promotional
  • Not citing your sources
  • Letting your content become outdated
  • Not being authentic
  • A bad brand reputation

Avoiding these things obviously doesn’t guarantee you links. We’re still going to seek out the resources that are most valuable to our readers and relevant to the subject we’re talking about. That may be your links; it may be those of another business or publication. But if you’re guilty of one of these eight sins, then even if your content is useful, there’s a good chance we’ll look for another resource to use instead.

If you want to appeal to the people doing the writing, then take heed. Producing valuable content is one part of the puzzle, avoiding the errors on this list is another.

Content Marketing in 2016: 5 Trends to Keep On Your Radar

content-marketing-trends-2016At this point it’s old news to say that content marketing just keeps growing in influence. But it’s true this year, just like it was last year and the year before that. While a year or two ago, some businesses were still holding out, most have realized by now that content is an important part of any marketing plan. In fact, according to the Content Marketing Institute:

  • 88% of B2B organizations use content marketing
  • 76% plan to produce more in 2016
  • Content marketing gets an average of 28% of the marketing budget
  • And 51% say they expect that amount to increase in the coming year

While most businesses have started to at least dabble in creating content to drive new leads and sales, many are still struggling to figure out what that investment should look like. If you’re trying to figure out where best to spend your content marketing budget in 2016, here are some of the main trends shaping the content marketing industry this year.

1. Long-Form Content

It seems distant now, but there was a point in time when marketers were singing the praises of short content. People were convinced that busy people simply would not take the time to read anything long. The popularity of social media seemed ample evidence of the preference for keeping things short and fast.

Perhaps because people do get their fix for short content on social media, plenty of evidence in the past few years has shown that when it comes to written content, people will take the time to read long form. In fact, it typically performs better on many websites than shorter pieces.

And then, there’s Google. The deciding factor for many content marketers is how their content will influence their website’s SEO. Studies by SEO professionals have shown that long form tends to rule in the search engines for a large number of competitive keywords. So think about lengthening your blog posts (think more like 1,500-2,500 words rather than 500), and setting aside budgeting for other valuable long-form types of content like whitepapers, guides, and ebooks.

Always keep in mind that length isn’t necessarily an arbiter of quality. If you choose to make the investment in long form, make sure you deliver both.

2. Content Personalization

Content personalization has been on the scene for a while, particularly in its most common form – including a recipient’s name in the emails you send. As content management technology gets more and more sophisticated, marketers are able to take their personalization much further.

Technology can track user behavior on your website and tie individual actions back to subscribers and customers when relevant. When you have that much information on individual customers, you can deliver up content that’s specific to their user persona and their point in the buyer’s journey.

That’s powerful. Marketers who use content marketing technology that allows them to align the content they provide with specific personas typically see a 60% increase in how effective their content is at meeting their goals. Content personalization works, which means many businesses will either continue to refine their personalization efforts in 2016, or start to dip their toes in and try it for the first time this year.

3. Data, Data, Data

Effective content marketing relies on good data. You can’t know how well your content is working if you don’t track its success as you go. Like most industries, marketing has therefore seen an uptick in how much decision-making relies on collecting and analyzing all available data.

Businesses that effectively practice data-driven content marketing see big results – nearly five times as much revenue from their marketing efforts, according to one study.

Data-driven marketing can play out in a number of ways. Content personalization relies completely on data. By collecting data on how visitors and customers interact with your website and content, you gain a picture of which of your personas they match, what types of content they respond best to, and can provide them with the right content accordingly.

Data should also shape your larger marketing efforts. Even if you don’t have the technology to provide sophisticated content personalization, you do have access to Google Analytics and other tools to help you measure how well your larger audience responds to your content. You should always be analyzing what’s working and tweaking your content plan based on what types of content and subjects perform best with your audience.

4. Interactive Content

Engagement is one of those words marketers throw around with great regularity. It’s a term that manages to be vague, while also serving as a holy grail of sorts in the world of content marketing. We don’t want people passively hearing about our brand. That may have seemed like enough in the era of outbound, but now we want them to actively interact with us, show us there’s a real connection there.

So much of how we gauge and measure our marketing efforts is based on trying to demonstrate this idea of engagement. That’s why interactive content has become an especially attractive form of content to consider. It requires prospects to perform a more active form of engaging during the process of consuming it than other forms of content.

And it works. 93% of marketers have said they consider interactive content to be more effective at educating consumers than passive content.

From quizzes to games to interactive white papers, interactive content can take on many forms. Many of the content forms your team creates now could probably be tweaked to become interactive with a little creativity and the right technology.

A side benefit of interactive content is that it can often help with #3 – how your audience interacts with your content can provide valuable data on who they are, what they’re interested in, and how they think. You can use that when you’re refining your personas or determining what content to create in months to come.

5. Content Shock

In 2014, Mark Schaefer identified a problem that many content marketers were grappling with. Even those of us who fervently believe in how effective content marketing can be and are quick to proselytize to businesses that haven’t yet taken the plunge were starting to see that the recommendation should come with a caveat. For business getting into the game late, making a splash with content marketing gets harder and harder every day as markets grow more competitive and businesses (especially small and medium sized ones) have to do more and more to get anything from the content they produce.

Schaefer termed this idea content shock and it inspired a flurry of think pieces, rebuttals, and social media conversations in the marketing world. Content marketing does work, but it’s hard and requires playing the long game – and the more competitive it becomes, the less you can skimp.

 

Many of the trends we’ve covered so far in this piece are developing in response to content shock and demonstrate how important it is to make a significant investment in content marketing for it to pay off.

  • Long-form content takes longer to write and costs more if you’re hiring a freelance content writer to help.
  • Interactive content will usually require the work of several members of your team with different skills and the cost of the technology required to make your content interactive.
  • Data and content personalization both require the right technology to pull off, technology that can seem prohibitively expensive to smaller businesses.

 

No one likes to hear that doing content marketing well will mean spending more, but it wouldn’t be honest for professionals in the industry to suggest otherwise at this point. That can sound dispiriting, but it’s a business truth that’s long been true for most things a business bothers to invest in. Doing something well will always pay off more than trying to skimp.

It’s important to note that the takeaway from Schaefer’s argument isn’t that content shock means content marketing isn’t worth trying. If you want your business to be relevant and visible online, it’s pretty much a requirement at this point. Instead, it means businesses have to be careful to be strategic. Make content promotion a significant part of your marketing plan. Pay attention to how your content is performing so you can optimize your content strategy as you go. Use personas to make sure the content you create is targeted to the people you most want to reach.

In short, commit. Give your content marketing efforts the time, energy, and budget they require. That was important in 2015 and it’s even more important in 2016 as ever more businesses enter the content marketing landscape to vie for the attention of your audience. You can still reach the right people; you just can’t expect it to be easy.

12 Things Every Non-Expert NEEDS to Know About SEO

important SEO basics

For those of us who spend hours each week reading about different facets of online marketing, there are many SEO facts and best practices that seem obvious to us that still aren’t understood by your average business owner. Dedicated, experienced SEO professionals have way more knowledge about the nitty gritty particulars of what makes for effective SEO than is covered here (and most know loads more than I do personally), but you don’t really need to know all that stuff anyways.

If SEO isn’t your personal specialty, but is something that matters to you and your business, these are the key things you absolutely need to know to avoid making decisions that could hurt your company.

1) SEO factors can be divided into two categories:

On-Page SEO Factors

This is the stuff you can control. You can optimize your website for SEO by making sure the site design is intuitive, the pages load quickly, and you strategically place keywords in the main parts of the page that are noticed by search engine crawlers:

  • Title tags
  • Headings
  • Image alt tags
  • On-page copy
  • Meta descriptions (doesn’t influence rankings, but good for encouraging clicks)
  • Page URLs

You can find a few more details on this part of the process in the SEO Basics presentation here.

Off-Page SEO Factors

This is the trickier part and where some businesses get in trouble. Search engines try to gauge how trustworthy a site is based on off-page factors like how many other sites link to it, how authoritative those sites are, the authority of authors who write on your site and share your site, and some various other complicated factors that help the search engines decide if people really like you.

2) SEO takes time.

SEO is a long process

Image via Corey Leopold

You’re not gonna see results tomorrow. Or next week. Or the next. It takes time for Google to pick up on changes, and even more time for SEO efforts to start to add up into something tangible. There may be some slight changes to your rankings in a short period of time (especially if you start off ranking very low and are pursuing SEO on your site for the first time), but good SEO is a long game and results take time.

3) SEO is a long-term process.

Related to #2, but still its own point, you can’t make a few tweaks to your site once and figure you’ve got SEO taken care of. It’s not a one and done deal. SEO is a continuous process that requires:

  • Fresh content
  • Regular tweaks to your site
  • Ongoing efforts to raise brand awareness and encourage legitimate links, and
  • A continual tracking of analytics to determine what’s working.

If you get yourself up to a nice high rank and figure you’re good and can stop, your competitors will take advantage of that false sense of security to unseat you.

4) Bad SEO can hurt you. 

Bad Seo

Google and their ilk hate spammers. The people out to game the system to get low-quality sites ranking higher than they should are precisely the enemies search engines are trying to take out with every new update to the algorithm. If you hire those people – even if you do so innocently, thinking they’re legitimate professionals who know what they’re doing – you risk hurting your business.

You cannot make rash decisions when it comes to your site’s SEO, you have to seek out white-hat SEO professionals who really know what they’re doing and won’t put you at risk.

5) SEO evolves.

As the search engines update their algorithms to foil the spammy SEO perpetrators addressed above, what works best for SEO changes. This is another reason it must be treated as a long-term process. What works best today might not be what works best in 6 months, so you have to stay on top of the changes and be prepared to adapt.

6) Search engines prefer sites that prioritize people over search engines.

It might sound counter-intuitive, but it’s true. If your site seems more designed to please the search engine deities rather than your actual visitors, it’ll be bad for your business (who’s gonna stay on a site that’s not useful, much less buy something off it) and bad for your rankings. Search engines consider things like how long visitors stay on a site and whether they ever bother to come back, so they can get a sense of whether or not the people stopping by actually like the site.

7) Keywords matter.

You have to be careful not to overdo it on the keywords – a keyword focus can’t outweigh the importance of making sense and writing content that’s easy to read – but keywords do matter in SEO.  Keyword research helps you understand what people in your industry and, more importantly interested in your industry, are talking about. That lets you know what kind of things to write about on your site, what kind of questions to answer, and what terms to use. You should pick different target keywords for each page on the site and include them in all of the parts of the page listed in the On-Page SEO Factors section in #1.

You want to choose keywords to emphasize based both on how popular they are and how competitive they are. If a small business decides it wants to dominate for a broad, popular keyword like “bathing suits,” it’s never gonna beat the likes of Target, Victoria’s Secret and the other huge brands sitting at the top of the search results for the term. But something more specific, like “vintage style plus size bathing suits” (what those in the biz call a “long-tail keyword”) will be a  more reasonable goal.

8) Content matters.

Content only ever seems to become more important to SEO as time passes and search engines evolve. Content provides value to site visitors, gives them a reason to stay on the site longer, answers their questions, and can help in the process of turning visitors into customers. Content is valuable to businesses beyond its role in SEO, but its importance to SEO can’t be discounted. Fresh content is one of the factors search engines take into consideration in site rankings. More importantly though, good content fuels the shares (read: links) and return visits to the site that signal authority and trust to the search engines.

9) Analytics matter.

Pay attention to what people do on your site. If you have pages that have high bounce rates (people that only stay on them for a second before leaving), they’re not doing you any good in terms of future sales or SEO. Weed out what’s not working and identify what is. Your SEO strategy should be regularly refined based on what your analytics tell you.

10) Traffic should not be your primary goal.

seo traffic

It’s not all about traffic

As previously mentioned, if you’re getting people to your site who don’t stay there, that tells search engines something about the value of your site and can hurt your rankings. Any increase in traffic is at best a temporary win if you aren’t giving people something they value once they get there.

Empty traffic doesn’t just end up hurting you from an SEO perspective though, if you get a billion visitors who never buy anything how much are they really worth? If the point of your website is to make money, you need visitors who will turn into customers. That needs to be your primary goal.

11) You are not Google’s* priority (not as a marketer or business owner anyways).

There’s no use complaining about it. If you get a penalty and/or fall from page 1 to page 142, you can feel like Google’s done you wrong and they owe it to you to fix it, but what reason do they have to care?

Their priority is to provide useful results to the people performing searches. If it looks like your site’s guilty of the manipulative tactics that result in lower-value search results, your business gets lumped in with the bad guys.

They’re a business with their own priorities and fixing your problems (even problems caused by your rank in the almighty Google search results) don’t rank high on the list.

*Insert any other search engine name in place of Google in this section and the idea’s the same. But let’s be honest, we’re mostly talking about Google.

12) Never trust an SEO company that guarantees a #1 spot. 

Remember when I mentioned back at the beginning that there are certain SEO truths that are super obvious to those of us in marketing? This ranks high on the list. The idea that there are still many businesses that buy into this line is baffling to those with some knowledge or background in SEO.

But it still happens, so it needs to be said. If an agency or individual ever pitches you based on this promise, RUN. They are not legitimate professionals who understand SEO and they’re likely to do your business more harm than good.

 

Now if you ever talk to an SEO firm that’s annoyed when you tell them you want to rank #1 by next month, you’ll understand why. There just aren’t shortcuts. As in most things worth doing, SEO takes some real time and commitment to do it well.

25 Creative Ideas for Gaining Local Exposure for Your Small Business

small business and local networking

A small business specifically focused on attracting local customers has an advantage over businesses with a broader scope. While it still takes some time, effort and strategizing, building up a reputation within the local community is easier than doing so nationally or internationally.

The most obvious advantage to gaining local exposure is increased referrals and customers, but that’s just the start. By becoming a member of the local business community, you will gain valuable new connections, knowledge, and get the priceless benefit of contributing to something larger than yourself.

Every small business owner has a number of options to choose from to raise the profile of your business in the community. Think carefully about which methods are right for you and your business. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

1) Sponsor a charity event.

2) Help plan or host a local networking event.

3) Partner with other local businesses.

4) Give speeches and presentations to relevant groups.

5) Contribute articles to local publications and blogs.

6) Contribute to your local public radio affiliate.

8) Register your website with local directories.

9) Optimize your website for relevant local search terms.

10) Join local business organizations and actively attend networking events.

11) Sponsor a local party, art, or music show.

12) Write articles with valuable advice on local attractions and issues on your business blog.

13) Become a mentor to students and young businesspeople with an interest in your field.

14) Sponsor an educational contest related to your industry that encourages young people to learn more about it.

15) Start an organization or meetup that provides value to other professionals.

16) Offer classes for people interested in learning more about what you do.

17) Create and promote online instructional videos that teach people valuable information about your trade.

18) Participate in local conferences as a speaker, exhibitor, attendee or sponsor.

19) Research who some of the most prominent experts and business people in the community are, and look for opportunities to meet and learn from them.

20) Interview other local small business owners for your blog.

21) Join local LinkedIn Groups and Google Communities and participate (don’t just promote!).

22) Interact with other local businesses, individuals and organizations on social media.

23) Provide eye-catching t-shirts with your business name and logo to friends, partners and customers.

24) Donate a portion of each sale to a local charity, or let customers choose between several for the percentage of their purchase to go to.

25) Start a scholarship for local high school students.

Many of these boil down to seeking out opportunities to get involved in and give back to the local community. One of the nice perks of this approach to business is you get to feel good about the work you do, and benefit professionally at the same time.

Link Building is Dead, Practice Link Encouragement

Within the most of marketing industry, to say that link building is dead isn’t terribly controversial. Nonetheless, many businesses haven’t yet left behind the idea and come to marketing firms and consultants convinced it’s what they want for their business.

The shift in the direction that SEO and online marketing have taken in the past couple of years due to recent Google updates is good for consumers, but bad for businesses looking for an easy fix to outrank the competition.

If you care about competing online, you can’t hire someone to do a little SEO work for you as a one-off project and expect results. Instead, you’ll have to drop the idea of an easy fix, and think bigger.

Content Marketing=Link Encouragement

It’s certainly still true that gaining links back to your site is mostly a good thing, but the quality and relevance of the sites giving you those links matters more than the quantity. The only way to get a link from a site with any authority is for them to want to give it you.

They have to believe that what you’re offering provides value for their visitors, and feel comfortable associating their site and brand with yours. Without that, you won’t get anywhere.

For this reason, the best approach is not to set out to “build” links, you need to encourage them by providing something that relevant sites will value. As you’ve probably surmised by this point, that means content.

The Good News

Content marketing is not an easy, quick fix. It’s a long-term process. But, it comes with many benefits besides link encouragement.

Content gives you the opportunity to earn trust from your audience and demonstrate that you know your business. A consumer trying to choose between a business that talks about how good it is, and one that shows how good it is by giving a taste of the knowledge and expertise it’s able to impart has an easy choice.

With some time, effort and strategy put into it, your business can build up a community around its content that doesn’t just attract customers, but creates advocates. A customer that feels she has a relationship with your business will make sure that people in her life know who to turn to when they need your services. A loyal customer that feels a bond to your brand is a better marketing tool than anything a marketing firm can do for you.