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A Good Content Marketing Plan Will Keep You in Business

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The typical business owner has a fairly stable gauge for assessing success. Solid revenue, a strong sales funnel, and opportunities for growth. Sure, there are plenty of other metrics you can apply, but these form the core. How a business owner goes about establishing that foundation, however, is open for discussion. At the very least, passively waiting around for the phone to ring is a bad idea. You have to proactively get business.

Content Marketing improves credibility and SEO, while driving leadsFor many companies, hard sales tactics don’t work. Small businesses frequently can’t afford a dedicated sales team. In many cases, the owners know they’re just not good at it. But one way that any business, regardless of size, can create opportunities is through content marketing. As business models continue to change, a good content marketing plan may very well be the tool that keeps you in business.

Content marketing is the practice of brands developing and curating content that communicates a story which resonates with customers. Readers find the content useful or entertaining and worth sharing. As a result, the brand, product or service highlighted in the story reaches several audience layers. Decision makers who reside within those layers and have need for your services could then pick up the phone or contact you via your website.

Now, before you go throwing every random piece of content up on your website, you must first consider your audience and intent.

  • Who do you want to read your blog?
  • How would you define the ideal person you want to click on your video or read your email?
  • How and where will your audience find your content?

Beyond that, after your intended audience reads or views your content, what do you want them to do next? Share it on Facebook or Twitter? Pick up the phone and call you? Sign up for your newsletter?  You need to identify your strategy.  You should also make sure your content strategy is directly related to your search engine optimization (SEO) objectives – if done right, strong content is the best way to drive improvements in search rankings.

And, oh by the way, the content should be good. A house painter wouldn’t throw a sign in the yard of a home where he butchered the job with unclean lines and painted shut windows. A blog post with bad grammar, absence of style, and lack of thought gets you nowhere.  But a well written post might provide credibility and turn a prospect into a lead – a lead that looks at your company as an expert in your field.

Is your organization currently employing a content marketing strategy? If so, is it working? If not, what are you waiting for? Contact us today to find out more about the benefits of content marketing.

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How to Find Great Photography for your Website

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Some people just get it. They find perfect pictures for every page or post on their website with ease. They tend to match up high-level concepts of content with some abstract vintage photograph. These people are highly creative, probably avoid wheat products, and do their best work at a coffee shop while sipping a $5 latte.

Old barn on a snowy day - finding great website photography

Then there's the rest of us. We really suck at this and our graphic designer (if we're lucky enough to have one) has no problem telling us repeatedly. But they're so busy with other tasks that asking for a simple image to accompany our latest post isn't worth the effort. If you suck and aspire to greater photographic selection then this post is for you.

One answer to better pictures lies in your pocket. No, I'm not referring to your wallet.

Your mobile phone holds the capability to a brighter future of engaging and beautiful content. Of course, that's not the only thing. Here is an overview of that and some other methods you can use to create or find great pictures.

Use Your Smart Phone to Take Interesting Pictures

Scrabble at home with the family

You have it with you everywhere. If at this point you're phone doesn't have a decent camera on it, then I'm surprised you've heard of the Interwebs and have made it to this site. Time to upgrade, my friend.

We all love cute and cuddly pictures of your children, grand-babies, or nieces and nephews but they usually don't fit well with your post about the tensile strength of a cable tie.

A mug my grandmother made for me 30 years agoRocky - staff member at Childrens Theraplay

Use your camera to take pictures of anything - interesting scenes, objects, people, places, etc. We see interesting things every single day, although we may not be trained to notice them. 

The pictures you see at the right are obviously not professional photographs. They are just random pictures I took along the way. Of course, you may ask, "how can I use images like these in my blog posts if I write about industrial strength detergents?"

I'll tell you....

The Scrabble board was taken during a random game with my family. Not related to detergents, you say? I say you are wrong. Here's a potential post title: "How to Get a Triple-Word Score when Choosing the Right Detergent" or "32 Uses for Detergents that Don't Require a Dictionary."

Rocky is a horse (errr, staff member) at one of our not-for-profit customers, Children's Theraplay. This one is easier - "Get a chance to meet the real Rocky when you buy 10 gallons!" or "Don't horse around with bad detergents."

And the mug? Well, my grandma made that 30 years ago and I proudly still have it. Of course, this one contained an adult holiday beverage my wife made. Titles - "Enjoy your mug of hot cocoa while our detergent does the hard work" or "When we say our detergent cleans mugs, we don't mean your face."

The sky is the limit, especially if you're allowed some freedom and fun within your blog posts. The only reason I started writing this post is because I took that picture of the barn above and it sparked the idea for the post.

Buying Stock Photography

Ever seen this girl? She is one of the most overused models in stock photography history. We used her as the main banner image of our website years ago until we saw her in some magazine ads, newspaper ads, and on a couple billboards. 

Most overused stock photography woman

Then, after we removed the image I saw her countless times in different variations. This is the challenge you get when using stock photography.

In and of itself it is not a bad thing and you do have the option with most providers to buy the sole rights to some images. Images that convey success and team work seem to be the most overused. But these sites have enormous collections. Just be aware that your choice may already be popular.

When choosing stock photography, pay attention to the following:

  • Download count - most sites should give you this and be an indicator of its popularity
     
  • Licensing - royalty free images can be used without fear of prosecution as long as you paid for it. This is the most popular option, though, because it's cheapest and there are no restrictions. It might be used all over the place reducing your "uniqueness" factor to a tiny grain of salt. Rights managed are much more costly and can only be used in specified scenarios that you indicate and pay for. These will be used much less but could cost you $1,000 and up.
     
  • Image size - make sure that you have the best image size for your applied use. If you're using this for print media of a page size or larger, you'll want to get one of the higher resolutions (2,000 pixels and up)

Here are some vendor recommendations:

VendorDistributionCostPurchase Type
stock.xchngRoyalty-freefree 
DreamstimeRoyalty-free$on-demand, subscription
(they say "free" images but I couldn't find any)
iStockPhotoRoyalty-free + rights managed$on-demand, subscription
(start at $2/image and up)
ShutterStockRoyalty-free$on-demand, subscription
(start at $19/image)
ThinkStockRoyalty-free$subscription and image packs
(starts at $25/image)
Getty ImagesRoyalty-free + rights managed$on-demand, subscription

Hire a Photographer

Want the most unique photography you can get? Then hire your very own photographer for a day, a week, etc. Hire them to take pictures of your place of business, warehouse, or plant. Give them some direction but also let them run free to fulfill their need for artistic expression. You'll probably be surprised by some of the images they capture - images you can use not only in your next product catalog but in your blog posts and as supporting imagery for pages throughout your website.

A decent photographer could easily cost you $100 per hour at the least. This is not a cheap option but if you want a large number of unique, high quality, royalty-free images that related perfectly to your organization, this may be a viable option.

Be sure to get a referral or recommendation for any photographer and make sure they are capable of taking the type of pictures you need. 

Steal and Borrow (ideas)

Yeah, this is not the most recommended method. However, it is used extensively throughout the world. Images are so readily available through Google and Bing that most people just go there, type in a few keywords, and voila! 5.2 gazillion images at your fingertips (don't forget to turn on safe search or you might get distracted for a while).

This is basically stealing. Seriously. If I said I've never done it, though, I would be [REDACTED]. But the truth is that there are millions of high quality images with just a few clicks of the mouse. If you use this method be sure to:

  • Reach out to the website owner and ask for permission to reuse it or ask where they got it
  • Link to the site where you found it and give the owners credit
  • Give the photographer credit, if possible, and link to their site or portfolio
I see you shaking your head and realize that none of you are going to do this so I have a different angle for you. If I have already read my dentist's copy of the Farmer's Almanac then why would I want to read my chiropractor's? They're the same, so therefore, I will only engage with it the first time (assuming I read the whole thing). The same goes for images. If you're copying other people's images, then you risk the chance of displaying something one of your visitors has already seen and reducing their level of engagement in your content. Be unique and avoid prosecution.

Instead of stealing, why not get ideas from the limitless images available? Spark your creative muscles and use it as inspiration instead. Then find some good stock photography, take your own pictures, or take notes to give to your photographer. Now you're onto something good.

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A Tinker Toy Kind of a World

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I loved these things in my single digits. Heck, I would still love playing with them now if I had any because I truly enjoy building things. That is one part of my childhood I'm happy to say I've always carried with me into my (gulp) late thirties. Give me a bunch of sticks and I'll build something fun or useful out of them. And the name is perfect for these little guys, isn't it? Tinker Toys. Toys meant for tinkering. 

And that's what made them so great. The tinkering part. Try this, then try that, then combine them. Forget about long term goals, planning, or any of that other boring, time-sucking gibberish.

Yeah, that was then. This is now.

We are marketers utilizing a medium we can see but can't touch and one that doesn't take its real shape until we start receiving data. So, tinkering takes on a whole new meaning. It's easy to tinker when you can see the immediate results, but a lot more difficult to tinker when it takes days, weeks, months, or even years to see results. In our world of instant gratification this bites big time. And we're adults now, most of the time. We know that good things come to those who wait. Right?

Wrong! That philosophy is BS and better suited for a 1920's catalog campaign. Today, we have the keys to the BMW and we're wearing our dancing shoes. So don't get caught sitting around watching the cockroaches race (true story from my dad, seriously). We have the tools in hand, or easily available, to make an immediate impact and all it takes is a little old-fashioned tinkering.

Whether you're adjusting your on-page SEO, posting a racy blog, adjusting your PPC keywords and spend, remarketing to abandoned cart visitors, improving site speed, or any number of other maneuvers, you should be tinkering. I'm not talking about changing your most successful call to action for all of your visitors or sending a politically charged email newsletter to your entire prospect base. No, you can tinker with just a small segment of your site visitors or your subscriber list or those who abandoned carts to find out what does and doesn't work. 

There are a number of tools that offer A/B testing and your subscriber list can probably be segmented or sampled to your hearts desire. But there are so many options available for us to tinker these days that it's probably a bit overwhelming. Here are a few ideas to get you moving. 

  1. Take a few more tutorials for your current CMS or schedule a brainstorming session with your vendor. You can probably do 90% of what you want but you just don't know it. Don't have a CMS? You should get one.
  2. Work with a company who can help you segment and target with current data. Right on Interactive (http://www.rightoninteractive.com/) here in Indianapolis is a fantastic company who can help you do all sorts of great things with your data. They love to tinker and explore data.
  3. Remarketing with another great Indy company - Smarter Remarketer (http://www.smarterremarketer.com/
  4. Dive into Google Analytics more than you ever have. Here's a great list of resources from kissMetrics - http://blog.kissmetrics.com/50-resources-for-getting-the-most-out-of-google-analytics/.
  5. If you're not using a good email marketing toolset, start now: ExactTarget, MailChimp, Constant Contact
  6. Tame the social media frontier by using Hootsuite to manage all your accounts in one place

I'm sure you have your favorites too, so please leave your highly recommended tools in the comments for others to see.

Bottom line is that we are paid to tinker, even when our marketing tactics are working. Not enough to kill the golden goose but enough to prove we can do even better or prove that we can't.

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Happy New Year - Content Marketing 101 Refresher

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It's 2013, you've survived the zombie apocalypse, and with the new year comes an opportunity to inject fresh energy and ideas into your content marketing. So let's get back to the basics a bit and walk through the fundamental elements of a good content marketing initiative. I think it's a good idea to occasionally review the basics in any project, especially as the project evolves into a bigger, more complex animal. This ensures you don't fall off course and that you stick to the general guidelines.

Content marketing is the essential ingredient for Marketpath's three pillars of effective website marketing - Visibility, Engagement, and Conversion. It is creating high quality content to be read and shared by others in order to get them to do something. Content creates the foundation for all website marketing efforts.

Without good content you only have a framework. Not having good content in your marketing mix is like having a football stadium without the football games. So, how do you get started or back on track? You answer the questions below to formulate a plan and then you write, or hire a writer to do it for you.

What do you want your visitors to do?

Conversion is one of Marketpath's 3 pillars of website marketingBefore you write anything, you need to understand and define what you want your website visitors to do. Do you want them to call a phone number, fill out a form for more information, download a case study or white paper, purchase a product, make a reservation, join a group, attend an event? This is your conversion - when an anonymous visitor becomes a known visitor or a customer. This is the beginning of your relationship with that individual.

The first conversion, however, may not be the only conversion. It might be a series of small conversions that lead up to the conversion that actually affects your bottom line - a purchase or new project. Compare this to a man courting a woman. He didn't jump out of a cake and make a marriage proposal upon first sighting. There were a series of efforts involved in getting to that point. The same may go for your visitors.

Are you a professional services firm? Then you probably need to establish expertise and rapport with your future clients. This happens over many interactions. Are you a retailer of low-cost furnace filters? Then your initial conversions are probably a purchase by new customers. Whatever your business, you need to understand the series of events involved with how new customers engage and convert.

Equally important, you should evaluate how existing customers continue to make purchases, kick off new projects, or simply maintain their current level of business with you. This may involve ongoing content that keeps their interest and maintains your prominence and expertise in the industry. This takes me to our next big question....

How will you persuade visitors to convert?

This is the engagement portion of Marketpath's three pillars of website effectiveness. What sort of content should you provide to initially engage or maintain the interest of your constituents? Great content leads to great conversions. If you cannot capture the attention of your website's visitors then you're not going to convert them. It's that simple.

Engagement is one of Marketpath's 3 pillars of website marketingYou can maintain a blog about best practices, put together quarterly white papers, create a video series, or write how-to's that demonstrate your products. Content comes in many forms and you need to understand (and experiment) with what motivates your audience to read, watch, or listen to the content you provide. This will be an evolution and probably not something you'll get right the first time.

Your content can be educational, entertaining, inspiring, etc. Again, this depends on your audience and knowing what will motivate them to engage.

Once you begin pushing content you should check your website analytics and measure visitor counts (new vs. returning), time on site (narrowed down to individual pages), referrers (where visitors come from), and bounce rate (visitors who land somewhere in your website and then quickly leave). These are the basics that will lead you in the direction of providing better stuff. You'll want increasing visitor counts, increasing time on site, increasing referrers, and a low bounce rate. 

How will you get visitors to your site?

Oculus Rift is awesome and visibility is one of Marketpath's 3 pillars of website marketingYour content may be well written, highly engaging, and exude your expertise. But without people reading or watching it, who cares? This is where the visibility portion of Marketpath's three pillars of website marketing comes in. You must promote your content before you get followers. Eventually, if it is good enough, people will help spread it for you. But you should always include some content promotion in your plans.

If you haven't established a presence within social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc), then you'll want to do this as part of your content marketing efforts. I won't get into specifics regarding social media here but with established social media connections your content will reach the eyes of current and prospective customers. If interested, they may read your blog post, and even more important, if your content engaged them and provided some benefit (learning a new skill, laughing, etc) they may even share it within their network.

Other ways to promote your content may include adding it to a regular email newsletter, submitting to local news agencies, presenting it during seminars or webinars, or asking others in your industry to read it and share it. Regardless of the channels you use you will always need to promote.

Who creates the content?

You. Or Sam from sales. Or the CEO. Or everyone. Whoever you choose make sure they want to. A couple years ago I ordered everyone in our office to blog. Some were required to write a post only once per month, some twice a month, and others once a week. Most of my staff complied, some grudgingly, others never contributed a thing. I don't think it was because they were intentionally ignoring me but likely because they just aren't writers and couldn't tackle the job.

The point is, you need to have serious buy-in from whomever provides content. If they are on staff, volunteers will outperform those mandated. Some people just don't want to be public. They enjoy being behind the scenes. Others want that publicity, to be recognized, and to be a more visible piece of the company.

Don't cast aside the possibility of outsourcing your content creation. There are numerous online copywriting services and you probably have a slew of agencies in town happy to assist. Video writers, producers, and actors are also more and more available. These should be an option to individuals with little time. Just make sure the resulting content is representative of your organization.

When to start?

Now. Building visibility, engagement, and conversions takes time and consistency. The longer you wait, the longer it will take you to build and maintain your audience. And the longer it will take to see results, if any.

Good luck and remember, you survived the zombie apocalypse so you can conquer just about anything now, especially a non-threatening content marketing effort.

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