15 Tips (of Various Types) From Content Marketing World’s Experts

content marketing world 2014

The weather’s nice. The food is orange. And there are the biggest names in content marketing everywhere you look (and a constantly cursing Oscar winner to boot).

Content Marketing World is an experience full of unique character and packed to the brim with information, tips, and ideas. The speakers and attendees come from all types of backgrounds and represent just about every possible job title in the content marketing industry.

That makes for some good variety in the knowledge you walk away with at the end of the week. Here are fifteen of my favorite tidbits from those full days in Cleveland.

1) Forget funnels and focus on moments of inspiration.

Does the sales funnel still accurately reflect how people buy? With the way the internet has changed how people research and shop, Andrew Davis suggests we’re looking to an outdated tool to understand buying behavior.

There’s not a simple, linear process behind making a purchasing decision anymore. What there is now is an internet full of ideas and stories. To get the attention of your potential customers and make a connection, you need to play on the level of the things they’re paying attention to online. You need to work toward creating moments of inspiration.

2) Start using Google Trends. Yesterday.

Another tip from Andrew Davis who insists that Google Trends is the most underused tool in marketing today. If you want to understand what people care about, what they’re talking about, what they’re thinking about and searching for (and of course you do if you’re in marketing), Google Trends is the tool to show you.

google trends

What people are thinking about today

3) Speaking of Google tools, you’re not doing enough with Google Analytics.

Andy Crestodina (another Google Trends fan) has figured out a lot of the best tricks for getting more out of Google Analytics. Trends are good for figuring out what people are thinking about more generally, but Analytics is where you figure out what they’re coming to your site for and what they’re doing when they get there.

If you use Google Analytics effectively, the data you glean can help with keyword research, topic development, and refining your strategy as you go.

4) Use tools, but don’t let them take the place of strategy.

Content marketing tools abound. We’ve got the aforementioned Google tools, a dizzying array of software, social So many tools! Graphic via Curatanetworks, tools for organizing your content creation process, amplifying the reach of your content, tracking performance, and so many more.

Kristina Halvorson offers the reminder that we can get carried away with our tools and tactics. Content marketing isn’t just about what we can do or think might be cool to do, it has to be strategic. Don’t let those tools distract from creating and sticking to a strategy.

5) Use personas. But remember, they’re not a creative writing project.

Personas are content marketing 101. We all know we need them, but the harder part is making sure they’re based on something real.

It might feel fun and creative to sit down and write out what you think is going on in the mind of your ideal customer, but unless you’re basing what goes into your persona on actual interviews or data, you’re writing fiction. Jenny Magic and Melissa Breker brought up the inconvenient truth that for personas to do their job and make your content marketing strategy more effective, they can’t just be a creative writing project.

say "no" for a better content strategy6) When creating a content strategy, saying “no” isn’t just ok, it’s important.

This is another gem from Kristina Halvorson (and one of the pieces of advice on this list that can easily extend to life beyond content marketing). Marketers are creative people and, as such, we tend to have more ideas than we can reasonably execute.

An important part of developing a content strategy that will be effective and sustainable is the ability to say “no.” Producing a blog post a day, a weekly video series, and an infographic all this month might sound like a great plan ­– but do you actually have the resources to execute that plan? Carefully consider what you can accomplish, so you create the most effective and efficient strategy within your means.

7) Always ask “why?”

Another Halvorson tip: think like a five year old. Every step of putting together your strategy and creating your askwhycontent, ask “why?” Why are you doing this? Why is this important?

Just keep asking until you get down to those big, hard-to-answer philosophical questions. If your content answers everything up to that point, you know you’ve dug deep into something really useful.

8) Writing is not grammar, it’s thinking.

You may have noticed a few sentences in this post that start with “and” or “but.” Well Ann Handley told me I could 🙂 .

The grammatical rules that may have seemed like gospel when you were learning to write in school aren’t the most important part of writing well. In fact, any time they have a negative influence on the readability or personality of your content, they should be set aside.

What matters is the thought that goes into the work. Writing must be useful and meaningful and something your reader can relate to. More than any proper use of a semi-colon, that’s what makes writing good in the world of content marketing.

9) Whenever you could use some extra writing inspiration, check out style guides.

Do you ever look over the style guides produced by some of the companies putting out great content? I have to admit, I never really thought to, but Ann Handley recommends it as a way to keep your writing fresh.

A few she specifically recommends are:

If you know of any other good ones worth checking out, let me know,

influencer marketing

Find influencers with Followerwonk

10) If you don’t have one already, develop a plan to start connecting with influencers ASAP.

In his talk on influencer marketing, Lee Odden stressed how people are much more likely to trust experts than brands. This is a pretty intuitive point: how much more likely are you to make a decision based on the advice of a person you trust versus that of a brand?

That makes any expert in your industry with an engaged audience somebody you want to know. And more to the point, somebody that you want to know and trust you well enough to share your content. This isn’t easy though, you need a plan to best determine which influencers you want to connect with and how best to establish, nurture, and maintain that connection.

11) Be sure to target actual influencers, not just people that are popular.

It’s possible for someone to have a large following and obvious popularity, without being a person with influence. Odden explains the distinction: a brandividual is popular, but an influencer can create popularity.

Popularity might be measured in things like followers, but an influencer is likely to have a more engaged audience. Their followers aren’t just passive listeners, but make a point to interact and become a part of the their community. That’s how you tell the difference.

12) But don’t just target the already influential, look for people on their way up.

Every powerful influencer out there started as someone with no fans or audience. The road to cultivating influence is long and slow and most of those who reach the end get some help along the way. And they remember the help they got.

Says Odden, “Work with an influencer, they’re friends for a day. Help someone become influential and they’re a friend for life.” Keep your eyes open for the people who are on their way up and look for opportunities to connect with them as well.

13) Get ready for adaptive content.

Context plays a huge role in how and why people buy. How huge of a role? It turns out that personalized content can mean 3-10 times as many conversions.

Jenny Magic and Melissa Breker talked about the growing trend of adaptive content. You’ve already seen glimpses of this ­– things like personalized ads based on sites you’ve visited and seeing different versions of a website on different types of devices all count as adaptive content.

The technology for businesses to do even more personalization in how they deliver up content is already there; it’s just a matter of jumping in and using it. But you can’t jump in without a plan. In the mantra familiar to any and all Content Marketing World attendees: the strategy must come first.

14) Slow down and fix your shit.

Both Kristina Halvorson and Jonathon Coleman gave this line a nod. Along with #15, it’s one of those pieces of advice that’s useful in pretty much all aspects of life. Rushed work and hasty decisions rarely produce results on par with what you get out of a well thought out and carefully executed strategy. Take your time and do it right.

15) It’s all about empathy.

To produce content people want to consume, you have to understand what they like and need. We talk a lot about personas in the realm of content marketing, but we always have to remember what the real point of those personas is. They’re worthless if they don’t help us empathize with the people we’re trying to reach.

In the emphasis on getting out a large quantity of content quickly (see #14), it’s easy to lose sight of what the purpose of the content is. Catchy headlines followed by posts that repeat familiar facts might help content creators reach their quotas and satisfy the higher ups, but are you creating something that people will actually appreciate?

Always have the people on the other end of the computer screen in mind. If you’re not making an effort to empathize with their needs, it’s time to start.

Sometimes Good Ideas Just Need a Little Boost: On WDS 2014

World Domination Summit

Image via Armosa Studio

At the professional conferences I’ve attended, there’s often a sense that everyone’s leaving with a few key ideas written down, tweeted, and held onto for inspiration coming home. At the World Domination Summit (WDS), I got the impression that every person was leaving there with a unique personal goal or idea top of mind.

The thing is, while attendance at WDS can offer some distinct professional benefits, it’s not a conference about work. It’s a conference about ideas. That means the takeaways for different people who attend are all over the map; whether that’s a more defined commitment to writing more often, an excitement to get started creating a course for digital nomads or the kick in the butt you’ve been needing to actually create that business plan and start your own business.

The result of attending WDS is that you really think about whatever it is in life that you want or need the most, and you leave with the inspiration required to start doing it.

Since this blog is about marketing and copywriting, it took me a little while to think of how best to tie in what I learned at WDS with the kind of topics I cover here. When it comes down to it, I realized one of the big lessons of my time in Portland could be applied as easily to content marketing or blogging as it can to a wide array of other tasks, professions, or goals: sometimes your ideas just need a little boost.

This guy hiked in a dress for charity. Image via Armosa Studios

Somewhere in the back of your head you probably know just what your life <ahem>, I mean marketing plan, needs, but you aren’t ready to put in the work or time or take the risk you’ve been considering. Ideas can have a lot of power, we just have to do something with them.

If you have an awesome idea…and then stop there, you won’t get much out of it. If you have an idea that sounds crazy like hiking in dresses for charity, building a tiny house (with no previous building experience), or walking everywhere you go for several years (all ideas turned into action by WDS attendees), sometimes you’ll get more out of it than you’d ever imagined. But only if you actually do it.

The Content Marketing Institute recently wrote about a new commitment their team is trying out: putting 10% of their time and resources toward brainstorming and tackling ideas that seem a little out there – either because they’re risky, untested, or just seem too big to accomplish. This isn’t a new idea, it was inspired by a policy at Google that was also employed by Jonathan Mildenhall in the marketing department at Coca Cola.

It might be tempting to say, “well sure, huge businesses like Coca Cola and Google can take creative risks, but we have a budget to stick to,” but that’s an easy excuse. The individuals at WDS get out there and take crazy risks on much smaller budgets than your average business marketing department has access to. You just have to be willing to give that good idea a boost, instead of getting mired in the all the excuses not to do it.

WDS gave many of its attendees that boost, but you can find your own. Think right now: “what’s the thing I’d really like to do next, but keep stopping myself from diving into?”

Now, just decide to do it. Good luck.

Why You Should Be Promoting Your Content (Not Just Your Products)

By this point, most businesses know they should be creating content. The advice is everywhere. Talk of content content promotionmarketing and business blogging is all over business magazines like Inc and Entrepreneur. You’re much less likely to encounter a business owner today who has never heard of content marketing than you are to encounter one who has thrown up her hands and agreed to go along with the tide and start a blog or YouTube channel for her brand.

You’re probably thinking: well what possible downside could a freelance copywriter whose job it is to create content see in this?

That more businesses are embracing content marketing is mostly a good thing, but many are taking an incomplete approach to it. Every business that starts a blog, publishes once a week, and doesn’t get results tarnishes the idea of content marketing a little bit.

For your content to gain traction, you can’t just create it. You need to promote it.

This message has made its way into the realm of common knowledge for those who specialize in content marketing or content strategy. Nonetheless, for many businesses who have just done cursory research into content marketing, the idea isn’t as familiar.

Jay Baer popularized the concept that you should make content so good that people would pay for it. Making content that’s good enough to be a product is step one. Step two is promoting it in the same way you do your products.

Well, not exactly the same way. The process of promoting good content is a little different than product promotion (although there’s plenty of overlap).

We’ll get more into the hows of promoting content in future posts, since it’s too big of a topic to cover in one blog post. In the meantime, there’s a lot of good information on the subject already out there. Here are a number of articles that touch on both the value of content promotion and techniques for getting started:

There’s some overlap in those posts, but that just lets you know that the stuff that comes up multiple times is the stuff you really need to know about content promotion.

Lest you read this and think, “Of course she says this is important, she just wants us to buy more of her services,” content promotion isn’t actually a specialty of mine. I can provide some consulting to help you generate ideas for a content promotion plan, but I’d rather help you find someone else to execute it.

I do benefit from more people understanding the value of content promotion though. Blog posts, reports, whitepapers, ebooks–all those things I do specialize in–are all worth more to a company that has a plan to promote them. I’d rather make great content for businesses that people actually see and appreciate, than great content that goes unnoticed by all but a few people outside of the company.

The Benefits of Content Marketing

Now that you know what content marketing is and why it’s good for your small business, let’s talk about some of the specific benefits a business can achieve with good content marketing.

Part 3 in our Introduction to Content Marketing for Small Businesses video series covers what you can expect to get out of content marketing.

Give it a look, and let me know what you think!

If you prefer to read it rather than watch it, here’s the transcript:

Hi! I’m Kristen Hicks and welcome to part 3 of the Austin Copywriter video series on content marketing for small businesses.

Our focus in this video is some of the specific benefits content marketing can offer to your business.

We’ve talked more generally about why it’s useful and what it is, so here’s what you can expect to get out of content marketing.

Benefit #1: A stronger reputation.

So much of small business success comes back around to reputation. Who’s heard of you and what did they hear?

Current and past customers who have had a great experience with you are a really good way to build this reputation, but limited. They don’t know everybody, and you want to attract and impress customers included in that circle beyond their reach.

Imagine a woman in crisis. She’s having a terrible day because she has a problem she can’t solve on her own.

Naturally, she turns to Google. She finds a blog post on your website telling her exactly what she needs to know to solve her problem.

Success! You’ve just made a positive impression on someone who has never heard of you before.

The problem and solution vary depending on what you have to offer, and how you help your customers, but the idea is consistent. Helping people will improve your reputation.

Benefit #2: A convincing demonstration of your expertise.

That same woman we just talked about. Not only does she think fondly of your company now because you helped her solve a problem, that blog post also showed her you know your stuff on: accounting/furniture building/gardening/whatever your business does.

If you’re worried that giving your expertise away for free could lose you business, chances are, it won’t.

Most people are happy to hand over the chores they don’t excel at to someone who does (for a reasonable price).

Benefit #3: Greater visibility.

You need people to know you exist, plain and simple. No one will ever think to buy your product or services without first knowing you exist.

Content marketing helps spread the good word of your business throughout the web. And, once people start liking you enough to talk about you with friends, beyond.

You give people something worth talking about and sharing, and they will. Your reach will extend based on how large of an audience you gain, and how much they like what you have to say.

While not a comprehensive list, that hits some of the most important benefits of content marketing for your small business.

Check back soon for the 4th and final entry in our Beginner Content Marketing for Small Business video series where we get into some of the best tips to make sure you do content marketing right.

How to Enhance Your Blog Post with Images (Without Breaking the Law)

Google makes finding images so easy. When a simple search produces a perfect image that encapsulates in visual form what your blog post is saying in words, it seems like a simple choice to drop into your post.

blog post photosThe problem is, Google Image search doesn’t do a good job of letting us know the original source of their images, or their copyright status.

You expect to make money for your products and services, photographers and artists do as well. If you use an image without the permission, attribution or payment that the creator expects, you’re taking a risk that could have costly consequences for your business down the line.

How to Find Out if An Image is Under Copyright

If you’re lucky, the site that Google Image search pulled the image from will have information to help lead you to the original source. The first step to figuring out if it’s an image you can use, is to identify where it comes from. If you can track down who created the image, you can get in touch to ask permission to use it, or determine if it might fall under public domain.

austin copywriter banner

Logos are free to use

More often than not though, you won’t have easy access to that information. If you can’t pin down the image’s original source, your best bet is to assume it’s copyrighted. All images created privately since 1989 are automatically copyrighted.

There are some notable exceptions to keep in mind. For photography, copyright expires 25 years from the time the photograph was taken. Business logos are generally fair game if you’re commenting about or reporting on a company.

One helpful tip: you can sort Google Image results by usage rights if you choose the Advanced Search option.

google image search

Go to Google advanced search…

google advanced image search

then limit under “usage rights”

 

Sources for Finding Free Images

free blog post image

Found via loc.gov, copyright expired

Starting with an image you like and trying to determine copyright from there is time consuming and, more often than not, you’ll have a hard time finding any of the information you need.

To stay on the right side of the law, the better option is to start searching in places where you know you can find images available for use, or that at least provide details on their legal status.

Images created by the government can be used without permission or fees. You can find a directory of government organizations with images available for use here. Note: while most of the images you find this way should be legal to use on your blog, their presence on a government site isn’t a guarantee. You should still check for any additional copyright or licensing information the site provides.

These sites will each let you search a database of images that include details on their terms of use. In many cases, you’ll find images you’re free to use as long as you include attribution (although keep an eye out for those with restrictions on commercial use, that includes any blogs used for marketing purposes).

Tips for Producing Your Own Images

There are a few methods for non-artists to create our own images. If you’re having a hard time tracking down a good stock photo, or just want to use something different, these sites can help you out.

Recite This – This site provides a number of visual templates that you can fill in with your own text.make your own blog post image

Easel.lyIf you have data that would work well in an infographic, there are some templates here you can fill in. Your options are limited, but if you find a template that works for you, an infographic can be a really powerful marketing tool.

Info.gramThis is another site that offers infographic templates, as well as chart templates. You do have to register for access to them.

PiktoChartThis site offers a wider selection of infographics and charts, and provides few for freebeforeyou need to upgrade to a paid subscription.

Possibly the most obvious option is to take your own pictures. If you have a post on a topic that you can easily grab a relevant photo for on your own, it can save you a lot of trouble.

If you’re willing to invest in a good graphic designer or photographer, you may find your posts greatly enhanced by the inclusion of quality, unique images. This can get expensive, but if it’s enough of a priority, it could well be worth it.

Thanks to Sophie Lizard’s 52 Totally Free Resources for Freelance Bloggers, Traffic Generation Cafe , and Western Journalism for helping me compile the information and resources included here.