Go Confidently into the New Year with these 5 Marketing To-Dos

Every January I see posts on posts about future marketing trends: How will SEO change in the new year? What social media platforms do you need to be on to succeed? What crazy thing will Google do to make us finally want to throw in the towel!? It’s overwhelming and bound to change by February. I thought it would be more helpful to make a checklist of five things you can do now to start your 2015 marketing efforts off with confidence.

Deep Dive Into Your Data

At the end of each year, you typically have a historic spreadsheet of the most important metrics to prove your site gets traffic. But it’s also nice to take a closer look at the random stats you don’t generally focus on. For example, you might consistently report on organic search visits, bounce rate and new vs. returning visitors. Why not dive deeper into things like average time on site, pages per visit, referring domains, browsers used, devices used, etc. You might look at these periodically throughout the year when the questions arise, but it’s a great time to really take a closer look. Also, think about your filter settings and how your dashboards are set up. Are there opportunities to use enhanced features in your software, or if you use Google Analytics, have you ignored things like campaign tracking that you could integrate into your 2015 plans?

Give Your GWT Some TLC

You should be fixing broken links as you come across them, but if you have a laundry list of 404s in your Google Webmaster Tools (GWT), now is a good time to reevaluate them. Maybe you need to talk to your website developers about your site architecture, or you have missing 301 redirects to fix. Spend some time in your GWT looking at crawl reports and server errors, and make sure your sitemap is up to date, robots.txt is working as expected, and your 404 page and HTML sitemap are current.

New Years Marketing Tips

 

Read it Again

Pull a list of the top 20 pages of your website. Now, go page by page and review all the content. Check for spelling errors, outdated facts, broken links, and optimization opportunities. Make sure the page titles show up in search and the meta descriptions are rendering. Check the images and text in all browsers and on mobile devices and tablets, and check for any missing alt tags. These are your top pages; make sure they continue to be in 2015.

Make Some New Friends

There are tons of SEO, social, and monitoring tools out there; there’s also a lot of expertise. Do some heavy research and talk to other marketers about what tools they rely on most and what they’d recommend trying out in the new year. It’s hard to move away from a tool you are comfortable using; but there might be something out there that could change the game for you entirely if you just knew about it! Open your eyes and see the possibilities. You might not find anything, but it doesn’t hurt to shop around. Some game-changing tools we’ve discovered this year (and they are not necessarily new to the world, just to us): Moz, Screaming Frog, Canva, and Buffer App. Influencers we rely on: @MarketingProfs/@AnnHandley, @SocialSavvyGeek, and @RandFish.

 Clean Up Your Social Act

Don’t wait for spring cleaning; now’s a great time to clear out old followers, find new followers, and sign up for any new social sites that are relevant and growing. On Twitter, if you haven’t already, set up some Lists to organize your connections. Update your LinkedIn profile with your resume and check for any new recommendation opportunities. In conjunction, deactivate old accounts and most importantly, make sure you update your passwords and check privacy settings. If you’re not sure what social channels to be on, read our recent post on the subject.

Happy New Year!

– Rach

Hashtags: What are they and when do you use them?

HashtagsIf you’re new to Twitter, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with hashtags. So, what is a hashtag? According to Twitter, “The # symbol, called a hashtag, is used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. It was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorize messages.”

I’ve found that there are three main ways they are used:

  • Useful categorization
  • Twitter chats
  • Ironic or humorous commentary

If you want your hashtags to actually do something, you should use them strategically and sparingly. Do some research on your topics to see if there are commonly used hashtags and to avoid un-savory hashtags that may have different meanings than you might expect. Say you wrote a blog article on Twitter tips and you are about to post a link to it on Twitter. Good hashtags to use would be #Twitter and #socialmedia. It’s not a bad idea to wrap your hashtags into your tweet text to save on characters, so perhaps it’s something like, “10 Awesome #Twitter tips: LINK #socialmedia.”

Hashtags are also a great way to start a Twitter Chat. If you’ve ever participated in a webinar or online conference, you know that there is often an associated hashtag with the event. It’s a fun way to keep track of what people are saying so you can also reply, comment, and retweet. Do a couple tweet chats and you’ll notice your following grow, especially if you engage with other participants.

It may not be exactly a “Twitter Chat,” but I do love, love, LOVE participating in @midnight’s Hashtag Wars. If you aren’t familiar, you should look into it. It’s a pretty fun game. Warning: it can get all kinds of wrong!

Finally — let’s talk about the third main use for hashtags — ironic or humorous commentary. This is when someone posts something and includes a ridiculous hashtag for a funny commentary, not necessarily to gain visibility. It’s not a method I would recommend if you are trying to promote your posts, although if it’s funny enough, it might start to catch on! Example: That’s right, I spent 2 hours watching The Real Housewives of NY. #sorrynotsorryactuallyiamalittlebitsorry.

For an overview of using hashtags on Instagram, check out this article from One Gram at A Time: The Ins and Outs of Instagram.

Okay — that’s about all I can muster up on hashtags right now. Does anyone have anything to add? I’d love to chat about this and other social media marketing stuffs. Why don’t we use the hashtag, #justhashitout!

Cheers,

Elizabeth

The First 5 Steps to Getting Started in SEO

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can be an overwhelming responsibility, especially when you consistently see articles announcing its impending death. Dramatic much? The term Search Engine Optimization might soon become outdated, because, not surprisingly, people want to be marketed to like people, not robots. It’s becoming increasingly important to write your content for human beings to read, and the days of practices like keyword stuffing, link farming, and throwing plain old shit content on a webpage are behind us. Google’s periodic algorithm updates exist for this exact purpose — to toss out the garbage. Unfortunately, sites with quality content can get caught in the crossfire when poorly set up and that’s why someone will always need to be optimizing content and sanity checking the technical aspects of web development. SEO will never “die.” It will simply evolve.

I manage SEO in house and it’s only a small portion of my job responsibilities; so, I’m learning as I go and time-saving tips are hugely valuable to me. Here are my 5 tips I suggest you do pronto when you’re entering the wacky and wonderful world of SEO.

  1. Bookmark www.moz.com. Moz is probably my favorite resource right now. Follow their Twitter @moz (might as well follow some personal handles as well: Rand Fishkin, Erica McGillivray, Jennifer Sable Lopez, just to name a few.) Check out their blog for some great in-depth articles on topics ranging from content and user experience to analytics and security. I also recommend tuning in to their Whiteboard Friday webinars and reading their Beginner’s Guides. It was one of the first things I found when I was researching what the heck I should be doing. The company is full of knowledgeable, super helpful people at all levels in their careers and I really appreciate their approachable nature — a big plus for people who are unsure of their skills and need some guidance. Oh! And catch up on all the Google algorithm updates with their ridiculously comprehensive timeline. The resources never end here.
  2. Sign up for Google Adwords. I rely a lot on Google Adwords tools. There are others out there (Moz even has one) but Adwords is free and really easy to use — all you need is a Gmail account. I don’t currently do PPC, but the Keyword Planner tool is great for research. It’ll definitely come in handy once you’re ready to start diving into optimization and strategy. For now, just get familiar with it.
  3. Subscribe to Search Engine Land. I check this website out pretty much daily. In fact, I have their Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors pinned to my cubicle wall and I suggest you do, too.
  4. Attend a conference. I mentioned this in a previous article on general marketing tips, but I can’t emphasize enough that if you’re lucky enough to afford to get your behind to a SEO conference, then do it. There is nothing more valuable than meeting peers and sharing ideas. You’ll meet so many great resources (and live tweeting during presentations helps you know who to follow and also builds your own social following). Here is a good article from Search Engine Journal (another great resource to bookmark) on some options.
  5. Educate yourself on other areas, not just SEO. Like I mentioned earlier in this article, SEO is evolving. It’s important to know how social media, content marketing, email marketing, PPC, advertising, etc. all intersect with each other and how that relates to SEO. I work really closely with a social media manager, as well as keep up to date on email marketing tools, lead generation best practices, and innovations in web development — all important to my growth in the SEO space.

-Rach

5 Tips to Elevate Your Content Writing Game

A couple weeks ago I shared some content marketing tips from the amazing book Everybody Writes by Ann Handley of @MarketingProfs. I mentioned I’d share even more of what I soaked up from this go-to guide as I read on, and here it is. I’ve boiled down the next few chapters of her book to get to the juicy bits. It’s pure gold.

Rewrite
Once you have written your first draft, rewrite it. According to Ann in one of my favorite quotes from the book, “reworking the work is what separates us from the chimps.”  She breaks rewriting into two types: editing by chainsaw and editing with surgical tools. Basically, the first is a look at the big picture. During the second read, pay more attention to detail and trim down extraneous words, obvious statements, cliches, and word bloat. (We’ll get to grammar in a later post.) Another tip is to get to the point. Cut out the metaphorical paragraphs at the beginning and your article will still probably make sense, if not be more powerful.

Ann Handley QuoteHave Empathy
At the root of your content should be empathy for the customer experience. Gone are the days of writing content for search engines; today, people need to know you feel their pain points and that they are understood. Talk to your customers; listen to them. Don’t just rely on data to make assumptions.

Writer’s Block Evasion
This might just be my new favorite concept. I can’t even count the times I’ve said I have writer’s block and stared at a blank page. Well, I could have written anything on that page — an anecdote of my trip to the grocery store, what my cat might be thinking while she’s staring at me from across the table, anything. I was avoiding writing out of fear of not having anything to say. The point is, just write! One great tip from Ann is to write like you’re composing a letter to someone you know, a customer or your mom for example. A real person with a real face will make it more conversational.

The Lede and the Kicker
Everyone knows from high school that your lede (or lead) is the most important part of your piece (and the kicker the second). But if you’re like me, it was also the toughest part to write. The pressure to make it great was just too high! Luckily, Ann has some tips for your lead sentences I wish I had 12 years ago:

  • Put your reader into the story
  • Ask a question
  • Quote a crazy controversial bit of data
  • Tell a personal anecdote
  • Start with a quote
  • Make a bold statement
  • Use an analogy

As for the closing to your piece, finish strong (and if applicable include a call to action). Don’t just trail off; summarize — not regurgitate — your main point. Add the element of tonal surprise; if your piece was formal, make it relaxed and vice versa. If you have quotes from interviews, end on someone else’s high note. Just make sure it’s relevant and makes sense as a closing statement.

Buddy System
When I need motivation to go to the gym after work, I grab Elizabeth. That way, if I want to go home and be a couch potato instead, she pushes me to stay on track. Same goes for writing. Having a writing partner can help with brainstorming, feedback, and quality. Beyond friends and colleagues, you can reach into the vast ecosystem of intelligent, helpful professionals online through LinkedIn or other online communities, or through groups that meet in your own town. If there aren’t any, start one!

Stay tuned for more great insights from Everybody Writes; I’m only a third of the way through. Man, there are not enough hours in the day.

– Rach

Content Marketing Tips from “Everybody Writes” by Ann Handley (Part 1)

I love Everybody Writes. And according to Ann Handley (@MarketingProfs), the most important piece of information should be written first. So there you have it. I’m becoming a better writer already.

Everybody Writes Part 1On the day Everybody Writes arrived in the mail I started reading it and was immediately intrigued by the introduction; so, I opened it up and plowed through 12 (albeit short) chapters. I couldn’t wait to share what I learned and went straight to the computer. And not knowing when I’d finish the rest of the book, I decided to spread the learnings across a few posts. I don’t want to give everything away because I could seriously quote this entire book — it’s that jam-packed with goodness. I recommend everyone who deals with content read this book and soon (and I say that without having finished it!). Don’t be scared away by the fear of writing; Handley does a great job relating to us ordinary marketing folks in the first few pages. (I mean, bowling and Mean Girls references? It’s like she wrote this book for me.)

Let’s dive right in, shall we?

What is content?

Everything! Webpage text, emails, newsletters, blogs, content on social media sites like Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, SlideShare, etc. Basically, anything your audience interacts with is considered content. This is why content creators, social media managers, and designers should work so closely together. Everything is intertwined, and working in a vacuum results in sucky content.

Quality Content = Utility x Inspiration x Empathy

Quality content is not just about a grandiose vocabulary, beautiful allegories or poetic descriptions, which goes against everything you learned in high school English. You could go on for 20 pages about the origins of the television, but I can guarantee your reader doesn’t give a hoot if it doesn’t explain how to make the picture not blue and squiggly. On the other hand, the person who is doing research on the history of the television for his college course might care about that detailed information. Know what you are writing and who you are writing it for.

What matters isn’t storytelling. It’s telling a true story well.

Storytelling implies embellishments and a bending of the truth. If you have a great story to tell, it’s more important to tell that story well (using the formula above).

Writing daily for 30 minutes is better than writing once a week for 5 hours.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard this tip, but it was good to be reminded of its importance. Everyone finds inspiration to write in different ways: in the early morning hours, on a sandy beach, in a bustling coffee shop, at home in front of a laptop. I am a night owl so I find it easiest to gather my thoughts in the evening with a glass of wine and some background music to get me in the groove (hence, how Dinnertime Marketing was born). The point isn’t where or how you find inspiration; the point is to write every day, for even a few minutes. It’s one of the few good habits to have, and doing it once a week if you find the time isn’t going to make it a habit. . . Chances are you’ll stop doing it altogether. Even if it is crap (or what Handley calls barf), write. Write. WRITE.

Put yourself in your reader’s shoes. Not your boss’s.

After you write your first draft (or, according to Handley, “The Ugly First Draft”) switch places with your reader and consider things from their perspective. Don’t think about who is signing your paycheck. Think about if what you just wrote down helps your reader. Does it answer “so what?” Is it easy for them to understand what you’re trying to say?

A lot of the above are more aspiration thoughts to remember when writing. Here are a couple actionable tips I gleaned from the first 12 chapters:

  • Put the most important information first. Avoid words like:
    • According to . . .
    • There is a . . .
    • It is [important, critical, advised, suggested, and so on] . . .
    • In my opinion . . .
    • The purpose of this [email, post, article] . . .
    • In 2014 [or any year] . . .
    • I think [believe] that . . .
  • 12 Steps of Writing
    • Goal. What is your business goal of writing this blog, article, etc.?
    • Reframe. What do you want your reader to get from the piece? Ask “So what?”
    • Seek out data and examples. If necessary to prove your point, use credible, real-world examples to support your piece.
    • Organize. Is your piece a bulleted list, a step-by-step guide, a longer narrative? What structure will best represent your thoughts?
    • Write to one person. Use “You” (not “they” or “people”) to make your piece more relatable.
    • Produce The Ugly First Draft. Personally, I call this a brain dump. Just write. It can be crap. You can take all grammatical rules you have ever learned and throw them in the garbage disposal (gasp!). Just take your thoughts and regurgitate them on the page. You can clean it up later.
    • Walk away. I do this often. Take a break from your first draft. It’s a rough draft because it’s rough. Go get a drink, take a walk, sleep on it. Whatever you need to do to distance yourself from it before you get back to it (just don’t wait too long or it’ll soak into the carpet and you’ll have to ditch it and start all over again).
    • Rewrite. Self explanatory.
    • Give it a great headline or title. This is the hardest part for me, but the most important if you want the readers to click on and read your article.
    • Have someone edit. I’m lucky that I have Elizabeth, my partner in crime on this blog, to edit my posts for me. It’s always important to have someone read your work before you post it.
    • One final look for readability. Is your piece inviting, easy to scan, alluring? Bulky paragraphs aren’t fun to read. This is why I love Handley’s short chapters. The book could be one run together chunk of text and I’d probably donate it to the local library without reading it. But I’d miss out on all the delicious insight!
    • Publish with a call-to-action. Don’t leave your readers left with “now what?” at the end of your piece. Do you want them to buy a product, subscribe to something, read more? Make sure let them know what to do next.

I warned you there were a ton of good tips and I was only 45 pages in. Stay tuned for more awesomeness as I get my act together and finish the book!