6 Steps to Get Your Content Marketing to Kick *Bleep* and Take Names

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014 at 9:40 AM | Category: Content marketing, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog 2 comments

“Want to do an activity?” my son asks. Paul and I agree. He hands each of us a pencil and a sheet of paper face down. Zachary tells us to circle numbers in order beginning with one and working up as high as we can. And he’ll be timing us after we turn over our papers.

“Go!” We flip to see a page with numbers all over in no particular order. I’m scanning for the one … for the two … three … it’s taking too long to find the three … finally! Four …

Talk about feeling jumpy!

“Time’s up! How many did you find?” Zachary asks. Embarrassed, I found 9. Paul got 11. He gives us another sheet of paper face down. We’re to do the same thing except draw two lines and the numbers will appear in four quadrants. Look for the first number in the first quadrant. The next one in the second quadrant. And so on. After the fourth number, go back to the first quadrant.

He tells us to go. We flip the paper to see the numbers in four squares. Number one is in the first quadrant, two in the second, etc. Five is in the first, six in the second. You get the idea.

“Time’s up! How many did you find?” I felt better about my 20 and Paul’s 21. He explains how important it is to have a plan or goals so we can hit our targets faster and more effectively rather trying to do things randomly. Wow. What a powerful lesson and a great way to teach it to kids. (Thanks to Mrs. Brennan, our elementary school counselor for all 14 years!)

So what kind of results will a company get when it does content marketing without a strategy? Clearly not as good as it could with a strategy in place.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with the thought of doing a content marketing plan. Start small with these arse-kicking six steps.

1. Marketing goals. Identify marketing goals you want to achieve in six to 12 months. Examples:

    • Educate prospects and clients.
    • Build brand awareness.
    • Engage influencers and customers.
    • Generate new sales leads.
    • Support current clients.
    • Nurture leads.
    • Cross-sell and up-sell.

2. Target audience. Build one persona in your target audience with the following information. (Remember we’re keeping it simple for starters.)

    • Name.
    • Age.
    • Job title.
    • Company details.
    • Industry.
    • Pain points.
    • Character traits.
    • Likes and dislikes.
    • How the person prefers to get information.
    • Where do you find this person online?

3. Make a list of questions your prospects and clients ask. You’ll create content that answer those questions and know what content you need to help them move to the next stage.

    • Blog posts.
    • Podcasts.
    • Webinars
    • Guides.
    • Infographics
    • Curated content.
    • Tutorials.
    • Interviews.

4. Determine what types of content you will create. You can save a lot of time by spinning off content into other types that eventually get you the email address you want. Content types include:

For example, you’re planning to do a webinar. The contents from the webinar can be the basis for more content, such as series of blog posts, a SlideShare presentation and an ebook that requires filling a form to access it. (Gated content.) Now you have an email address to add to your growing email list. Next time you create new content, send an email to your list to tell them about it.

5. Make a simple publishing schedule. Don’t go nuts trying to create an editorial calendar. Instead, come up with a publishing schedule, such as monthly webinars, weekly blog posts and so on.

6. Make a list of where you’ll promote the content. Turn this list into a checklist that you can reuse each time you’ve created a new type of content. Here’s an example:

o  Email list. (One time with a second send to those who didn’t open first send.)

o  Twitter. (Two times a day.) Test different headlines.

o  Facebook. (Twice a week.) Test different images and introductory copy.

o  LinkedIn company page. (One time.)

o  LinkedIn personal account. (One time.)

o  Google+ company page. (One time.)

o  Google+ personal page. (One time.)

And there you have your six-step content marketing plan.

What about metrics? Yes, they’re invaluable. However, I promised a simple content marketing plan to get you going. You can add more as you find a routine.

So which approach will you take with your content marketing? The random one like the first worksheet — creating content on an ad hoc basis without considering your target audience’s needs and preferences? Or will you take the organized approach like the second worksheet — delivering the content your target audience wants and needs?

Now go create a kick-arse content marketing strategy!

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Is Your Company’s Content Cursed?

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014 at 12:33 PM | Category: Content marketing, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech, Writing 2 comments

Hank Stroll, one of my first clients and a dear friend, would occasionally reply to my email with a chuckle telling me I’m doing what his wife does. He explained that his wife and I sometimes had a tendency to talk about something and he’d have no clue what we’re talking about. Like he entered the middle of a conversation.

“Talk to me like I don’t know anything,” he’d write.

I fell victim to the curse of knowledge. And it’s everywhere. Maybe even in your company’s content. It could be the website or content marketing stuff.

It’s more common than you think. An email newsletter columnist submitted an article about companies that made the “best of” list. Each contained a short overview of the company’s business.

Whew, boy. They all spoke the same language: marketing-speak.

I visited the companies’ websites for more information to help me rewrite them to stick with just the facts. It wasn’t surprising to see the overviews came from the website — mostly the Home or About pages. (Good thing making this “best of” list didn’t require effective content, eh?) It also didn’t surprise me that most of the content didn’t clearly communicate what they do for clients.

They all suffer from the same disease I did.

The curse of knowledge.

I believe the phrase first appeared in the October 1989 issue of The Journal of Political Economy. Here’s how authors Colin Camerer, George Lowenstein and Martin Weber of “The curse of knowledge in economic settings: An experimental analysis.” described it.

The curse of knowledge makes personal expertise seem more widely shared than it is, making it difficult for people to convey their expertise to others and reducing the apparent need (from the perspective of the better-informed individual) for such a transfer of knowledge.

They studied the impact of the curse of knowledge from an economic point of view. Chip Heath and Dan Health explained it from a business point of view in “Made to Stick.” I bet you’ve seen it or lived it.

Many sensible strategies fail to drive action because executives formulate them in sweeping, general language. “Achieving customer delight!” “Becoming the most efficient manufacturer!” “Unlocking shareholder value!” One explanation for executives’ love affair with vague strategy statements relates to a phenomenon called the curse of knowledge. Top executives have had years of immersion in the logic and conventions of business, so when they speak abstractly, they are simply summarizing the wealth of concrete data in their heads. But frontline employees, who aren’t privy to the underlying meaning, hear only opaque phrases. As a result, the strategies being touted don’t stick.

In other words, the people who wrote the content for these companies were stuck in their heads. It makes it harder to separate their knowledge from the knowledge — or lack thereof — of the people visiting their website. They knew what their company did. They forgot to consider what their target audience knows or didn’t know.

This wasn’t a simple problem of using jargon and abbreviations. It was a problem of explaining what they do to someone who had never heard of the company. All of these were business-to-business professional services companies. (Noticed I skipped using B2B or BtoB?)

Although I work with B2B clients, not everyone reading this knows what it means. Yes, it’s common to me. Nonetheless, I still remember when I read it for the first time — and I’d like to think I read a decent amount of business articles — I didn’t know what it meant. Not just the abbreviation, but also what it means to be a B2B company.

Another example. A fan of a client’s product advised not using certain terms to describe the client’s technical app for consumers. What he didn’t realize is that most of the client’s target audience know, need and use those terms. If we use the app fan’s suggested terms, people will never understand what the app does. And they’d never find the company because they wouldn’t use those search terms.

Simple test to see if your content suffers from the curse of knowledge:

Have a family member or a friend read it.

Yes, even if they’re not your target audience. They can tell you if it makes sense or not.

Thanks to Hank, I learned early on to think about what the reader may or may not know. That doesn’t mean I’m 100 percent cured of this disease. I don’t think I’ll ever be. It’s impossible to escape my own head. (Dagnabbit.)

What do you think of the bolded text? Or do you prefer headings? Personally, I prefer the latter. However, some folks say they prefer bolded sentences and phrases.

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A Content Marketing Fail That Doesn’t Have to Happen

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014 at 9:16 AM | Category: Content marketing, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog 3 comments

As we planned to move back to Texas and buy our first home, Paul (rockin’ better half) and I decided to start fresh. We sold most of the furniture we had at our place in Washington, D.C. Although our new home was barren for a while, one of the first things we shopped for was a bedroom set.

I always liked the one my parents had that came with shelves and a built-in reading light. We found something similar, but excitement turned to disappointment when the furniture arrived. The set was fine as it was what we expected.

It was the color that was wrong. Since the floor sample was dark brown wood (the color of our D.C. furniture and we were darn tired of it!), we had to rely on a list to find out the other available wood colors and we chose a milk wash. I figured it’d be natural wood with a mix of white and blonde wood colors. Instead, the set had artificial-looking milk wash paint. We kept the set because it had everything except the right color. We searched all over the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex before making our decision and didn’t want to look again.

With businesses planning to increase content marketing efforts, they need a plan to ensure they deliver the right content to the right people at the right time.

Content Marketing Fail

A marketing company put me on its mailing list after I downloaded a free ebook or something. No surprise. The kicker was the email I received from the company a couple of months later.

Subject line: “Next Tuesday or Thursday.”

I see that you’ve demonstrated recent interest in our [product]. In order to help you discover how [company name] can benefit you, I’d like to setup a 15-minute call to go over your current marketing environment.

I can then make specific recommendations as to how [company] can drive [benefit].

Would you be available next Tuesday at 10am PST or next Thursday at 1pm PST? If not, is there another time that works best for you?

I was shocked. Really. This email was asking too much too soon. I knew I hadn’t taken the right actions to arrive at this point in the company’s sales cycle.

The company lost my trust and respect. I won’t recommend its products. I return to the beginning of the sales cycle since the company has to regain my trust. While marketing automation can be powerful, this company clearly didn’t map the process.

Four Common Content Marketing Fails

Here are some content marketing fails that can be avoided:

  1. Serving up the wrong content at the wrong time.
  2. Creating headlines and subject lines promising one thing and delivering something else.
  3. Publishing content that leaves readers thinking: So what? What was the point of that? What did I gain from this? Thanks for wasting time I don’t have.
  4. Using a photo with a headline that doesn’t match what appears when people click through to the landing page.

Bryan Eisenberg shares great examples of broken marketing. Like he says, this is basic stuff that can be avoided. Before creating and publishing any content, ask yourself if it’s relevant and matches expectations. What can you do to set clear expectations? The furniture store could’ve done that by providing small samples of the wood.

And yes, we still have the bedroom set.

Share a time when you got something different from what you expected. What other ways do companies fail to match expectations in content marketing? Thanks for posting your thoughts in comments and sharing this article.

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Content Marketing Taken Over by Zombies

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013 at 4:32 PM | Category: Business, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 5 comments

Newspaper Zombie 221x300 Content Marketing Taken Over by ZombiesZombies are in. I think its popularity started with PopCap Games’ “Plants vs. Zombies,” which took up many hours of what little free time I had. Now, I wasn’t the likely candidate to be a fan of the game because I’m so not a fan of horror. Yet PopCap created a cute and fun game.

Yes, I said cute in referring to a game with brain-eating creatures. C’mon. It has a dancing zombie with backup dancers. Admit it. That’s cute.

Zombies Everywhere

That’s the extent of my interest in zombies. I will not read “World War Z.” I will not view its movie. And I will not check out “The Walking Dead” no matter how many folks rave about it. I didn’t even want to check out “Under the Dome” knowing its author was Stephen King. (I read the reviews that said it wasn’t horror. Instead of the horror thing, I feared being left hanging. Sure ‘nough, it wasn’t horror and they friggin’ left us hanging!)

Anyhoo.

“But, Meryl! I don’t like horror either and I love the show,” friends said.

Thank goodness I have a trusty husband in Paul. I sent him on a dangerous mission: Watch “The Walking Dead” alone and report back.

He did. The man knows me better than I do. (Mostly.) Paul advised against watching it and explained why. He was right. Me no likey.

Like the popularity of “The Walking Dead,” marketers have jumped into content marketing in growing numbers like the multiplying zombies in “World War Z.”

Missing: Content Marketing Brains … If found, please contact your local marketer

Based on evidence of the quality of content — or lack thereof — out there … some marketers let the content marketing trend guide them rather than their brains. (Maybe zombies got to them.)  Like anything that catches on, folks hop on without giving a thought whether it’s the right thing, or doing any planning.

That’s happening with content marketing.

And a lot of content marketing is crap. (Please excuse my rare cussin’. This still calls for it.) Not only is it crap, but also it’s delivered to the wrong folks, at the wrong time, in the wrong place or all of the above.

Or they’re not doing true content marketing. They’re selling. Just look at these stats Steve Olenski found and shared in The Catastrophic Social Media Content Marketing Mistake Marketers Are Making.

Econsultancy Main Objectives for Paid Digital Media Sept20131 Content Marketing Taken Over by Zombies

Here’s his explanation why this is catastrophic:

It means that marketers are putting more emphasis on selling than they are at establishing relationships with consumers via branding.

It means that marketers would rather try and sell you something than say tell you a story.

It means that marketers are only in “it” to increase their bottom line.

What Content Marketing Really Is

Per the last bullet — Olenski knows the whole point is to make money for the business. He explains:

When I am asked for my definition of content marketing, I usually include the phrase “guns blazing” as in “you cannot go into a relationship and maintain a relationship with a consumer guns blazing. You have to engage, relate to, share relevant content with your audience and yes integrate your ‘guns’ AKA your product, into your overall content marketing strategy.”

It cannot be sell, sell, sell at every single turn.

And Michael Brenner makes these points about the future of content marketing:

Quantity content WITH Quality to support the growing information needs of our customers.

Brands will resemble publishers and assemble newsrooms and hire or train journalists who can tell stories and contribute to major publications.

Sponsored stories. Brands will continue to create more quality sponsored content that is buyer-centric and that removes the brand from the story. (Emphasis mine.)

Content length will continue downward as our real-time, mobile world seeks smaller, more “snackable” and more “shareable” content.

Good quality is always a must. But the rest of it (quantity, what to provide, etc.) depends on target market *needs*. Brenner reaffirms what Olenski said. I applaud his last point about content length. I don’t care how great a story someone tells. I rarely read a 2,000-word story. (Not counting books, of course.) I disagree with folks who say that a person should use as many words as needed to tell a story. Some publications can get away with it — and that’s because they know their audience and deliver what they crave.

Even though a lot of content is crap, there’s still a lot of it out there and some of it valuable. I’d rather have a buffet of content in small portions than eat one dish and get bored with it.

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This Content Marketing Hazard Can Hurt Your Company’s Credibility

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013 at 9:40 AM | Category: Business, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 4 comments
grape jelly geode This Content Marketing Hazard Can Hurt Your Companys Credibility

Ginormous “grape jelly” geode with amethyst crystals

My husband Paul and I finally took our sons to the much-lauded Perot Museum of Science and Nature. Lane, the new high schooler, wasn’t thrilled about going. (“Why did I have to come?” Grumble, grumble.) He’d rather stay home and play video games. His younger brother Zachary, the bookish one, couldn’t wait.

I didn’t have high hopes that Lane would find an exhibit he’d like. You know teens. They make up their minds they don’t want to do something and stick with it. The three of us went our merry way checking out the interactive exhibits with Lane tagging along. At the end of the day, Paul reported the gems and minerals (read: rocks) exhibit captivated our teen son. He’s always been fascinated with rocks. Every time he’d go to the museum with Grandma, he’d come home with a couple of rocks. (We also let him buy one — much, much smaller than the 5 1/2-foot one in the photo. — more like five centimeters.)

You have to applaud the museum curators. Unlike many businesses, museums have a broad target audience as people of all ages and backgrounds visit. They serve single adults, married couples with no kids, seniors. The whole gamut. Yet they curate exhibits to ensure visitors have at least one that grips them. The curators pulled off a biggie in finding one for the pickiest, disinterested teen.

Danger! Watch Out for the Crap Content Avalanche

Sharp content curators are like museum curators. They think of their audience when they curate and select resources. We may not be creating content from scratch, but it takes as much time and effort panning for in the massive content mine since content marketing became the hottest thing. Content marketing has been around for a long time. It didn’t have a fancy name until now. Props to Hank Stroll, one of my first clients, for introducing me to the secret of sharing valuable — not promotional — content in 2001. (Not a typo.)

Folks realize that content marketing works when done right (they forget about the “when done right” part), so everyone does it and most without creating a strategy. That’s why we’re flooded with content that provides zero, zilch, zippo value.

Because of this, most of the time when we click an interesting link, we hit crap. (Sorry for cussing — it’s the best word.) The biggest danger to content marketing is the load of crap content.

Insanity! Retweeting Blind

Dan Zarella explains part of the problem in New Data Indicates Twitter Users Don’t Always Click the Links They Retweet. He says that 16 percent of the tweets with links resulted in more retweets than clicks. In English: folks retweeted a tweet with a link without checking out the link! Yikes! These folks share unchecked links, and some could lead to tasteless or spammy content. (It has happened enough that I encountered malware.)

Why retweet without checking the link first? No one can judge content based on the painstakingly crafted titles or deceptive descriptions accompanying the links. Good social media citizens don’t waste people’s time with lousy resources.

Stop! Nix the Content Assembly Line

So what can we do about it?

Easy!

Stop. Creating. Crap. Content.

Stop spewing article after article, report after report, white paper after white paper like an automaton.

Isn’t your inbox flooded with email offers? You know the free e-book, free report, free webinar,  free here, free there, free everywhere. Free don’t mean a thing if the content ain’t got that swing.

I bet you’ve downloaded a lot of those complimentary offers and opened few. I have. They collect e-dust until it comes time to do a little file cleaning. Then I go Cyberman all over them and delete, delete, delete them. (Yes, I’m a “Doctor Who” fan.) The company producing the content also loses credibility.

Many well-known (and somehow respected) websites generate content with slick titles that mesmerize you. Yes, we writers all have off days. Me included. Nonetheless, these websites did it too often and onto my “don’t visit list” they went. Fool me once, I’ll give you a couple more chances. Fool me six-ish times, kiss my clicks and eyeballs goodbye.

Help! How Do We Build Great Content?

Think of the content process like a journey not the destination. A leisurely route not a shortcut. A marathon not a sprint.

Creating content that’s worth reading is only half of the success formula. Doug Kessler did a bloody fabulous job with the Six Principles of Great Content Brands. This rounds out the rest of the content success formula.

6 Ways to Build a Great Content Brand (the short version):

  1. Be the buyer. Know your prospect inside out (with clothes on).
  2. Be authoritative. Because beneficial and fascinating beat fluff, unless it contains marshmallows.
  3. Be strategic. Create a content strategy so you deliver the right content, to the right folks in the right place at the right time.
  4. Be prolific. Tap great writers and designers. (My fave, of course.)
  5. Be passionate. Great content is contagious when you care. (This post … yes?)
  6. Be hard on yourself. Rewrite, nix, exterminate and delete until you produce hot piping content goodness.

Content oughta be a great virus so that when we click links, they lead us to tasty content worth gobbling down. Meanwhile, I shall keep on curating through the mountain of crap for the diamonds worth sharing in the museum of social media. Who knows? Maybe I’ll find some winners for those finicky Lanes.

What do you think of content marketing? What does it take to succeed?

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Why Relevancy Matters in Content Marketing

Thursday, July 11th, 2013 at 11:38 AM | Category: Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog 1 comment

Like most of you, I rarely pay attention to commercials. (What about during the Super Bowl? Nah. Not too interested.) I zip through them. (Thank you, DVR!) If I can’t skip the commercials, I use the time to catch up on reading or play Fairway Solitaire (darn you, Gutsy McDivot!) on my phone. But then I caught a woman talking with her hands. Stop. Rewind. Play. As a deaf person, I couldn’t help but be interested in what Mary had to say.

This speaks volumes about relevancy, or lack thereof. As you watch the video, think about what type of company could be behind it. (The video has subtitles, but you can jump to the script.)

What did you think when you found out the company? Watching this made me think about bullying and how deaf folks want to be viewed as a person like everyone else. Maybe it was a public service announcement or an ad for a nonprofit organization.

It took three views before I could remember the company behind the ad. First time, I couldn’t recall. Second time, right type of business, but not the name. Third time, I wrote it down.

Mary said that people who are deaf want to have friends and be treated with respect. Agreed. And then what? It had no closure, no real point. How was this relevant to viewers and the advertiser’s business? Buy insurance, get friends and respect?

Relevance isn’t just about the audience. There needs to be some connection between the content and the business. This video showed how the lack of relevancy made it harder to remember the company.

Granted, the company attempted to tell a compelling story … but the story didn’t go anywhere, showed no connection to the business and failed to be relevant to the audience.

This video reiterates the importance for marketers and advertisers to create content that’s valuable and relevant to their business and, most importantly, to their target market. An Ascend2 “Email Marketing Strategy Outlook Report” survey says that most effective tactic to achieve email marketing objectives is “creating relevant and compelling content.” And yet it’s also the most difficult tactic to execute.

Why does it matter? When something isn’t relevant, it won’t connect with the audience and be memorable. It also affects a company’s reputation. Content marketing is rife with examples of irrelevancy.

What did you think of the ad? Can you recall a time when you came across something that was not relevant to you? What other ways do companies fail to be relevant? Please let me know your thoughts in comments. Love hearing from y’all!

Video script

My name is Mary and this is my aha moment.

I think we spend too much time fingerpointing and saying, “Oh, that’s their problem.” It’s just so awful.

Deaf people are just like people who can hear. They want a family, they want friends, they want the opportunity to go out and experience various things and they want respect.

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The Trouble with Tribble-ish Content Marketing

Thursday, June 6th, 2013 at 8:53 AM | Category: Content marketing, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Social Media, Writing 3 comments

star trek kirk tribbles 300x221 The Trouble with Tribble ish Content MarketingBack in 2001, I connected with a fellow from InternetViZ and interviewed him about email marketing. A few months later, a client closed his business. It was one of the primary sources of my writing income. That taught me the importance of having a variety of clients instead of one or two that make up the bulk of your income.

Discovering content marketing

I came to a crossroads in my writing career where I had to decide whether to get more business or let it wither away and be a corporate woman for life. Not wanting to give up, I started writing an email asking people if they needed writing support to help their business.

While writing this (I still remember it as if it happened yesterday. And goodness knows I’ve written many emails.), my stomach knotted and I debated whether to do this. Finally, after re-reading the message many times, I hit “Send.” (Good thing Gmail and its “undo” feature didn’t exist or it may not have made it.)

Gulp.

The fellow responded and connected me with his business partner, Hank Stroll of InternetViZ. I’ve worked with Hank ever since. (He’s in Minn. and me in Texas. We met in person in 2007 and it was like old times. Still is.)

Little did I know he would launch my career in content marketing long before this fancy name came about. He figured it out — before most people did — that companies could better connect with clients and prospects through email newsletters and valuable content instead of marketing their stuff.

The content marketing secret’s out

Now every marketer is in on the secret and trying to churn content. (A lot of content is crap.) Multiplying like the “Star Trek” Tribbles. Even as a writer for more than 10 years, I get stumped for fresh ideas. How many articles have you seen that give you ideas for content? Zillions.

I blog less often than I should. However, I’d rather not blog than recycle something that others have said many times, many ways. Like “Green Eggs and Ham” — these articles have been delivered on a boat, with a goat, in the rain, on a train. OK, more like in a blog, on a SlideShare, in a video, in a tweet.

Finding a fresh take on popular content topics

So how do you provide a fresh take on a popular topic you need to cover? Yes, there’s a catch. It means reaching a smaller audience.

The secret: Write about the topic with a specific focus.

Let’s say you need to write about content marketing. Here’s how you’d get specific:

  • 7 Ways B2B professional services companies can use content marketing.
  • How content marketing boosts your luxury car dealership.
  • Content marketing lessons from a information technology research firm.
  • Is content marketing worth it for the oil and gas industry? Yes!
  • Team up marketing automation software with content marketing.
  • 5 ways to promote your tech support services with content marketing without sounding like an ad.

You get the idea. True, not many people will seek articles on oil and gas and content marketing. The magic comes in feeding search engines by having the keywords in the headline and link, such as http://www.rockingB2Bprofessionalservices.com/blog/7-ways-b2b-professional-services-companies-use-content-marketing.html (This is a fake link. Any resemblance to real links, living or rotted, is purely coincidental.)

It may not mean much traffic for the article. (This is where social media rocks. Link to the article from social media and email newsletters.)

This link  boosts keyword power for “b2b professional services” especially if the company’s other content uses those keywords in other blog posts and page headlines. While few may search for “b2b professional services content marketing,” “b2b professional services” in the headline and link pump the site’s keyword muscle.

This narrow focus content approach …

  1. Lets you produce fresh content for your website. (Search engines <3 that.)
  2. Strengthens keyword power for your site.
  3. Allows you to give away your expertise for free — which builds credibility and trust.

“But, Meryl. Doesn’t adding keywords like this come across as phony and smart search engines will catch on to such tricks?”

As a writer, I’m more sensitive to keyword fakery in web content. You probably have lots of stories you can tell about your business. Turn your story into an example and those keywords will fit naturally. Don’t force it. Just write conversationally. Edit and tweak. Repeat. (Not too many times, though!)

Watch self-mentions

One more suggestion: Skip mentioning your company, product or service in these articles.

Competitors and fans of competitors won’t link to your article. In searching for articles on niche topics for clients, most of the good ones mention the company, product or service. While a competitor or its fans may not want to link at all, they may be more willing to share because it’s important to them to be a trusted resource. (Great article on this: Why You Should Link to Your Competitors.) When an article promotes something, then that’s a little much.

How do you find content ideas that have been rehashed many times?

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The Problem with Carefully Crafted Headlines

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013 at 9:46 AM | Category: Blogging, Books, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing 8 comments

My youngest showed me a bookmark that listed the 20 Texas Bluebonnet nominated books. “Mom, I’m going to read all 20 of these books,” he said.

Needless to say, I did cartwheels and back flips in my mind. (The only place it can happen as I haven’t done a decent cartwheel since the ’80s.) A child who wants to read? My oldest was average about reading. The middle one despises it.

A little background. The Texas Library Association runs the Texas Bluebonnet Award program, a reading program that encourages children in third through sixth grades to read more books. They must read at least five nominated books to be able to vote.

We reviewed the list to find his next read. Then I did what I should know better to do. I started judging books by the title. An interesting thing happened. The synopsis of the titles that interested me sounded like books worth reading. And those with blah titles didn’t.

After my son finished “Benjamin Franklinstein Lives!” I picked it up. Good title, right? I don’t like monsters or anything, but I knew it wouldn’t be scary since this is for kids. Here’s the synopsis:

Victor Godwin’s orderly life is upended when he discovers that Benjamin Franklin never actually died. In truth, he was put in suspended animation and hidden away for more than 200 years in Victor’s basement.

Intriguing, right?

I didn’t like it.

Bad Headlines Live!

That’s what happens when I come across a headline that interests me. I click through only to find a disappointing article that doesn’t deliver.

There are jillions of articles about writing headlines for blog posts and online articles. They give advice, tricks and formulas for crafting a super duper catchy one that hypnotizes people into reading.

Please stop. Just stop.

It happens often enough that I quit visiting a few websites that let me down again and again and again. Everyone has an off day. Of course, I didn’t stop visiting after one over-hyped or perfectly crafted headline. These sites were notorious enough that I started remembering how they wasted my time too often.

Sometimes it’s not so obvious. Some headlines say they’ll show you how to create a plan or strategy only to be vague without helping you.

Back to Basics

A simple headline that describes the article beats out another using a formula that over promises and under delivers. The same goes for email subject lines. I open plenty of email newsletters with basic subject lines that tell me what the issue is about. They don’t always have a benefit or add a sense of urgency. Some even use the same headline such as: “Newsletter name: Title of key topic or article.”

Just say what’s in the email and make sure the content in the email matches the landing page. Bryan Eisenberg shares great examples of how an email promises one thing and delivers something else. (Check it out. It’s unbelievable how companies overlook something so basic.)

 The Problem with Carefully Crafted Headlines The Problem with Carefully Crafted HeadlinesNow when I review the Bluebonnet list, I look up the book’s summary and read well-written reviews. I also ask around for recommendations. 2013-2014 nominee “Walls Within Walls” caught my eye. And guess what? The school librarian loved it. And my son is already hooked. (Bonus points: the book takes place in New York, my dad’s hometown.)

For 2012-2013, my son voted for “Aliens on Vacation.” If I could vote, it’d be “Wonderstruck,” which left me — like its title — wonderstruck after reading it.  (Its author, Brian Selznick, wrote “The Invention of Hugo Cabret.”) At my son’s school, “Wonderstruck” received the most votes. “Postcards from Camp” won the 2012-2013 Texas Bluebonnet Award.

Are headlines becoming a problem for you in your Internet travels? Do they live up to your expectations? What can we do to write better headlines?

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Relish the Past

Thursday, December 13th, 2012 at 12:18 PM | Category: Business, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Social Media 1 comment

graduation 300x224 Relish the PastMy daughter and I went to her elementary school — where her little brother was a third grader — for the senior reception. Every year, the elementary schools hold senior receptions inviting all the graduating seniors to visit old friends and connect with their former teachers. Even the parents reconnected. I hadn’t seen some since middle school or longer. Elementary school requires more in-school volunteers than any other school. It gave parents a place to meet and socialize.

Digging deep for memories

One teacher admitted who saw her students using rulers as swords on the first day of second grade admitted she thought they would be a difficult class. It turned out to be a  great class. A little lesson in first impressions and how they can be wrong, but also how they can destroy any chances of making a second impression. (The teacher was stuck with those kids. A hiring manager can pass up on a candidate who wasn’t energetic in the interview.)

It was lovely reconnecting with some of the parents that I wished we had stayed in touch. These parents had one thing in common — they weren’t big email or Facebook users. To be fair, I’m not big on making phone calls.

And other parents, I just couldn’t remember their names. Alas, no name tags for the parents. Only the students had name tags, or else we’d all be saying, “Who’s that?” I should’ve showed up with a name tag that said, “Shelby’s Mom. St. Edwards.” (Can you guess the question most often asked at the reunion?)

Connections and business

This shows the value of email marketing and social media for business. It keeps your name out there. It keeps you networking. It keeps your company in everyone’s mind. You may not see financial or traffic ROI. But isn’t it worth helping people remember your name? Eventually, someone will need you or take the next step in the sales process by subscribing to your email newsletter, downloading a white paper or signing up for a free webinar.

It’s also good for your personal brand. One of my clients first hired me to do copy for his product. We stayed in touch and he hired me again when he went to work for a different company. Another client brought me in to do content for his startup. A few years later, he joined another startup and again, brought me on board. It wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t stayed in touch.

My daughter may have graduated from high school, but that’s not the end of her connections with her classmates. Some she may never see again. Some she may see at the high school reunions. And some she may find resources through them and them through her.

Leaving a company is like graduation. You may leave the institute, but your connections stay with you.

How do you stay connected with past and current clients? Prospects?

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Get on a First Name Basis with Online Prospects and Clients

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012 at 9:32 AM | Category: Business, Customer Service, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Social Media 2 comments

Drapers Barber Shop Martinsville 300x185 Get on a First Name Basis with Online Prospects and ClientsOnce upon a time, geography and the surrounding community limited the customer base for small businesses. Today, our connected world offers an unprecedented opportunity for small businesses everywhere because we can live anywhere and work with clients on a global scale.

But what have we sacrificed? Sometimes we long for the days when an owner knew the name of every customer who entered the store. Communities foster customer loyalty and help keep a small business afloat during tough times.

Building meaningful relationships lies at the heart of social media marketing. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter are not solely another avenue for advertising your products and services. They exist to form a community for your business.

To build a small town atmosphere of support online for your company, remember these four key points.

1. Be a Resource

Customers look for people and businesses that they can trust. Using your social media accounts, you can be a source of knowledge about your company’s area of expertise. Instead of just posting about sales and promotions, use these outlets to share information that you’ve been learning or reading about.

If you’re an accounting firm, this could mean posting easy-to-understand updates about changes in the tax code. Likewise, a natural foods store might post about a new study questioning the health benefits of a product like soy — even if it’s among the products that they sell. By being honest and providing real, objective content, customers realize they can trust you with their purchases.

2. Be in Touch

The ability to directly contact your customers is a valuable asset. First, you have to establish trust – people don’t want to give out their email or phone number in fear of receiving spam. If you can collect this information, however, you now have a direct line to your base. Offer a discount to compel people to sign up for a newsletter or coupons sent through text messages.

Once you collect the contact information, don’t abuse the trust. A monthly e-newsletter can go a long way in helping build on that trust. Shape the newsletter the same way that you do in social media. Balance objective content with information about your products and services. 80/20 works well here where 80 percent of the content is valuable information and 20 percent is self-serving. Likewise, a weekly text message about a great deal helps remind customers to visit your site or connect with you.

3. Say thank you … always.

Regardless the type of business you run, saying thanks never goes out of style. If all of your transactions go through an automated online system, you can send a follow-up email that says thank you and includes a link to a survey or a comment box where people can offer feedback. (Yes, you can automate this.)

If you’re a company that deals with fewer clients than a retail store, it may be feasible to send handwritten cards. Once you order the cards, it only takes one minute to write a line or two of thanks and drop it in the mail. The effect can be a long-term and fruitful business relationship.

4. Remember Special Occasions

Customers need reminded that they’re doing business with fellow human beings, especially in a time when much of our business and interaction occurs through the portal of a connected device. Holidays aren’t an excuse to have a sale. Depending on the size of your company, sending holiday cards or gifts to your most valued customers works wonders in building loyalty and strengthening relationships. If a competitor ever comes along, clients will remember that you sent them holiday wishes. It’s also okay to celebrate your company’s birthday. Remind your customers that you’re growing, and it’s thanks to their support.

In a business world where we’re increasingly separated from clients, it’s important to find ways to establish real connections through relevant content and direct outreach.

What other ways have you found to get to know your customers?

Christopher Wallace is Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Amsterdam Printing, a provider of personalized pens, imprinted apparel, mugs, customized calendars and other promotional products. He regularly contributes to Promo & Marketing Wall blog.

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