The poet Burns once observed that the best laid plans “gang aft agley.” At Moz, we were about to publish our State of Local SEO industry report, based on our local search marketing survey to which hundreds of you generously replied. Then the public health emergency unexpectedly arose, and we decided to pause in our planning.
The findings of the survey, as they currently stand, contain valuable and surprising insights which are as relevant today as they were pre-COVID-19. Yet, in order to reflect the substantial changes the local business community is currently weathering, we are reaching out to you with a timely additional request.
If you market local businesses in any capacity, whether in-house or for an agency, please take our quick, supplementary six-question survey. Your answers will help everyone gauge the impacts of the past few weeks on our industry, and hopefully help in planning for the future. We would be so grateful for just a few minutes of your time to be sure the final report reflects the full picture of local business marketing.
Our work as marketers has transformed drastically in the space of a month. Today, we’re grateful to welcome our good friend Rand to talk about a topic that’s been on the forefront of our minds lately: how to do our jobs empathetically and effectively through one of the most difficult trials in modern memory.
We hope you’ve got a cozy seat in your home office, a hot mug of coffee from your own kitchen Keurig, and your cat in your lap as you join us for this week’s episode of Whiteboard Friday.
Howdy, folks. I’m Rand Fishkin, founder of Moz and co-founder of Sparktoro. And I’m here today with a very special edition of Whiteboard Friday.
I think that now is the right time to talk about marketing in uncertain epochs like the one we’re living through. We obviously have a global crisis. It’s very serious. But most of you watch Whiteboard Friday. Know that here at Moz, right, they’re trying to help. They want to help people through this crisis. And that means doing marketing. And I don’t think that now is the right time for us to stop our marketing activities. In fact, I think it’s time to probably crunch down and do some hard work.
So let’s talk about what’s going on. And then I’ll give some tactics that I hope will be helpful to you and your teams, your clients, your bosses, everyone at your organizations as we’re going through this together.
The business world is experiencing widespread repercussions
First off, we are in this cycle of trying to prevent massive amounts of death, which is absolutely the right thing to do. But because of that, I think a lot of us in the business world, in the marketing world, are experiencing pain, particularly in certain industries. In some industries obviously demand is spiking, it’s skyrocketing for, you know, coronavirus-related reasons. And in other cases, demand is down. That’s because we sort of have this inability to go out.
We can’t go to bars and restaurants and movies and bowling alleys and go do all the things we would normally do. So we don’t need fancy clothes to go do it and we don’t need haircuts — this is probably the last Whiteboard Friday I would want to record before needing a cut. And all of that spending, right, that consumer spending affects business-to-business spending as well.
It leads to cost cutting by businesses because they know there’s not as much demand. It leads to lower investment and oftentimes layoffs as we saw in the United States, where nearly 10 million workers are are out of work, according to the latest stats from the federal government. And that builds this environment of fear, right. None of us have faced anything like this. This is much bigger and worse, at least this spike of it is, than the Great Recession of 2008. And, of course, all of these things contribute to lower spending across the board.
However, what’s interesting about this moment in time is that it is a compressed moment. Right. It’s not a long-term fear of of what will happen. I think there’s fears about whether the recession will take a long time to recover from. But we know that eventually, sometime between 3 and 18 months from now, spending will resume and there will be this new normal. I think of now as a time when marketing needs to change its tone and attitude.
Businesses need to change their tone and attitude and in three ways. And that’s what I want to talk through.
Three crucial points
1. Cut with a scalpel, not with a chainsaw
First off, as you are looking to save money and if you’re an agency, if you’re a consultant, your clients are almost certainly saying, “Hey, where can we pull back and still get returns on investment?” And I think one of the important points is not to cut with a chainsaw. Right. Not to take a big whack to, “Oh, let’s just look at all of our Google and Facebook ad spending and cut it out entirely.” Or “Let’s look at all of our content marketing investments and drop them completely.” That’s not probably not the right way to go.
Instead, we should be looking to cut with a scalpel, and that means examining each channel and the individual contributors inside channels as individuals and looking at whether they are ROI-positive. I would urge against looking at a say, one-week, two-week, three-week trend. The last three weeks spending is very frozen and I believe that it will open up more again. I think most economists agree. You can see that’s why the the public stock markets have not crashed nearly as hard. We’ve had some bouncing around.
And I think that’s because people know that we will get to this point where people are ordering online. They are using businesses online. They are getting deliveries. They are doing activities through the Internet over the course of however long we’re quarantined or there is fear about going out and then it will return to a new normal.
And so because of that, you should probably be looking something like six to twelve weeks in the past and trying to sort out, OK, where are the trends, where are their lifelines and opportunities and points of light? And let’s look at those ROI-positive channels and not cut them too soon.
Likewise, you can look inside a channel. If you haven’t seen it already, I highly recommend Seer Interactive’s guide to cutting with a scalpel, not a sledgehammer, and they look at how you can analyze your Google Ads accounts to find keywords that are probably still sending you valuable traffic that you should not pull back on. I would also caution — I’ve talked to a bunch of folks recently who’s seen Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and YouTube and Google ad inventory at historically low prices. So if you have ROI-positive channels right now or your clients do, now is an awesome time to be to potentially be putting some dollars into that.
2. Invest now for the second & third waves in the future
Second thing, I would invest now for the second and third waves. I think that’s a really smart way to go. You can look at Harvard Business Review and Bloomberg and a bunch of folks have written about investing during times of recession, times of fear, and seeing how. Basically when we when we go through wave one, which I think will be still another two to six weeks, of sort of nothing but virus-related news, nothing but COVID-19, and get to a point where we’re transitioning to this life online. It’s becoming our new every day. And then getting to a post-crisis new normal, you know, after we have robust testing and quarantining has hopefully worked out well. The hospital systems aren’t overwhelmed and maybe a vaccine as is near development or done.
When those things start to come, we will want to have now messaging and content and keyword demands serving. Right. And ads and webinars. Anything that is in our marketing inventory that can be helpful to people, not just during this time, but over the course of these, because if we make these investments now, we will be better set up than our competitors who are pulling back to execute on this. And that is what that research shows, right, that essentially folks who invest in marketing, in sales during a recession tend to outperform and more quickly outperform their competition as markets resume. You don’t even have to wait for them to get good — just as they start to pick up.
3. Read the room
The third and possibly most important thing right now is, I think, toread the room. People are paying attention online like never before. And if you’re doing web marketing, they’re paying attention to your work. To our work. That means we need to be more empathetic than we have been historically, right? They are. Our audiences are not thinking about the same things they were weeks ago. They’re in a very new mindset. It doesn’t matter if they’re business-to-business or business-to-consumer. You are dealing with everyone on the planet basically obsessed with the conditions that we’re all in right now. That means assuming that everyone is thinking about this.
I really think the best type of content you create, the best type of marketing you can create right now across any channel, any platform is stuff that helps first. Helps other people. It could be in big ways. It could be in small ways.
The Getty Museum, I don’t know if you saw Avinash Kaushik’s great post about the Getty Museum. They did this fun thing where they took pictures from their museum, famous paintings and they put them online and said, “Hey, go around your home and try and recreate these and we’ll post them.” Is it helping health care workers get masks? No. But is it helping people at home with their kids, with their families, with their loved ones have a little fun, take their mind off the crisis, engage with art in a way that maybe they can’t because they can’t go to museums right now? Yeah, that’s awesome. That’s fine. It’s okay to help in little ways, too, but help first.
I also think it’s okay to talk about content or subjects that are not necessarily related to the virus. Look, web marketing right now is not directly related to the coronavirus. It’s not even directly related to some of the follow-on effects of that. But I’m hoping that it’s helpful. And I’m hoping that we can talk about it in empathetic and thoughtful ways. We’d just have to have to read the room.
It is okay to recognize that this crisis is affecting your customers and to talk about things that aren’t directly related but are still useful to them.
And if you can, I would try not to ignore this, right? Not not to create things that are completely unrelated, that feel like, “Gosh, this could have been launched at any time in the last six months, sort of feels tone deaf.” I think everything that we do is viewed through the lens of what’s happening right now. And certainly I have that experience as I go through online content.
Do not dismiss the scenario. I think that that history will reflect very poorly. History is moving so fast right now that it is already reflecting poorly on people who are doing this.
Don’t exploit the crisis in a shameless way. I’ve seen a few marketing companies and agencies. I won’t point them out because I don’t think shaming is the right thing to do right now, but show how you’re helping. Don’t exploit by saying “It’s coronavirus times. We have a sale.” All right? Say, “Oh, we are offering a discount on our products because we know that money is tight right now and we are helping this crisis by donating 10 percent of whatever.” Or, “We are helping by offering you something that you can do at home with your family or something that will help you with remote work or something that will help you through whatever you’re going through,” whatever your customers are going through.
Don’t keep your tone and tactics the same right now. Oh, yes, I think that’s kind of madness as well. I would urge you, as you’re creating all this potentially good stuff, new stuff, stuff that plans for the future and that speaks to right now, go ahead and audit your marketing. Look at the e-mail newsletters you’re sending out. Look at the sequential emails that are in your site onboarding cycles. Look at the overlay messaging, look at your home page, look at your About page.
Make sure that you’re either not ignoring the crisis or speaking effectively to it. Right. I don’t think every page on a website needs to change right now. I don’t think every marketing message has to change. But I think that in many cases it’s the right thing to do to conduct an audit and to make sure that you are not being insensitive or perceived as insincere.
All right, everyone, I hope that you are staying safe, that you’re staying at home, that you’re washing your hands. And I promise you, together, we’re going to get through this.
You’ve produced a piece of content you thought was going to be a huge success, but the results were underwhelming.
You double and triple checked the content for all the crucial elements: it’s newsworthy, data-driven, emotional, and even a bit controversial, but it failed to “go viral”. Your digital PR team set out to pitch it, but writers didn’t bite.
So, what’s next?
Two questions you might ask yourself are:
Do I have unrealistic link expectations for my link-building content?
Is my definition of success backed by data-driven evidence?
Fractl has produced thousands of content marketing campaigns across every topic — sports, entertainment, fashion, home improvement, relationships — you name it. We also have several years’ worth of campaign performance data that we use to learn from our successes and mistakes.
In this article, I’m going to explain how businesses and agencies across seven different niches can set realistic expectations for their link-building content based on the performance of 626 content projects Fractl has produced and promoted in the last five years. I’ll also walk through some best practices for ensuring your content reaches its highest potential.
Managing expectations across verticals
You can’t compare apples to oranges. Each beat has its own unique challenges and advantages. Content for each vertical has to be produced with expert-level knowledge of how publishers within each vertical behave.
We selected the following common verticals for analysis:
Health and fitness
Sex and relationships
Food and drink
Across the entire sample of 626 content projects, on average, a project received 23 dofollow links and 88 press mentions in total. Some individual vertical averages didn’t deviate much from these averages, while others niches did.
Of course, you can’t necessarily expect these numbers when you just start dipping your toes in content marketing or digital PR. It’s a long-term investment, and it usually takes at least six months to a year before you get the results you’re looking for.
A “press mention” refers to any time a publisher wrote about the campaign. A press mention could involve any type of link (dofollow, nofollow, simple text attribution, etc.). We also looked at dofollow links individually, as they provide more value than a nofollow link or text attribution. For campaigns that went “viral” and performed well above the norm, we excluded them in the calculation so as not to skew the averages higher.
Based on averages from these 626 campaigns, are your performance expectations too high or too low?
Vertical-specific content considerations
Of course, there are universal principles that you should apply to all content no matter the vertical. The data needs to be sound. The graphic assets need to be pleasing to the eye and easy to understand. The information needs to be surprising and informative.
But when it comes to vertical-specific content considerations, what should you pay attention to? What tactics or guidelines apply to one niche that you can disregard for other niches? I solicited advice from the senior team at Fractl and asked what they look out for when making content for different verticals. All have several years of experience producing and promoting content across every vertical and niche. Here’s what they said:
Sex and dating
For content relating to sex and relationships, it’s important to err on the side of caution.
“Be careful not to cross the line between ‘sexy’ content and raunchy content,” says Angela Skane, Creative Strategy. “The internet can be an exciting place, but if something is too out-there or too descriptive, publishers are going to be turned off from covering your content.”
Even magazine websites like Cosmopolitan — a publication known for its sex content — have editorial standards to make sure lines aren’t crossed. For example, when pitching a particularly risqué project exploring bedroom habits of men and women, we learned that just because a project is doing well over at Playboy or Maxim doesn’t mean it would resonate with the primarily female audience over at Cosmopolitan.
Especially be aware of anything that could be construed as misogynistic or pin women against each other. It’s likely not the message your client will want to promote, anyway.
Given the fact that money is frequently touted as one of the topics you avoid over polite dinner conversation, there’s no doubt that talking and thinking about money evokes a lot of emotion in people.
“Finance can seem dry at first glance, but mentions of money can evoke strong emotions. Tapping into financial frustrations, regrets, and mistakes makes for highly entertaining and even educational content,” says Corie Colliton, Creative Strategy. “For example, one of my best finance campaigns featured the purchases people felt their partners wasted money on. Another showed the amount people spend on holiday gifts — and the number who were in debt for a full year after the holidays as a result.”
Emotion is one of the drivers of social sharing, so use it to your advantage when producing finance-related content.
We also heard from Chris Lewis, Account Strategy: “Relate to your audience. Readers will often try to use financial content marketing campaigns as a way to benchmark their own financial well-being, so giving people lots of data about potential new norms helps readers relate to your content.”
People want to read content and be able to picture themselves within it. How do they compare to the rest of America, or their state, or their age group? Relatability is key in finance-related content.
A little healthy competition never hurt anyone, and that’s why Tyler Burchett, Promotions Strategy, thinks you should always utilize fan bases when creating sports content: “Get samples from different fan bases when possible. Writers like to pit fans against each other, and fans take pride in seeing how they rank.”
Food and drink
According to Chris Lewis, don’t forgo design when creating marketing campaigns about food: “Make sure to include good visuals. People eat with their eyes!”
If the topic for which you’re creating content typically has visual appeal, it’s best to take advantage of that to draw people into your content. Have you ever bought a recipe book that didn’t include photos of the food?
Think tech campaigns are just about tech? Think again. Matt Gillespie, Data Science, says: “Technology campaigns are always culture and human behavior campaigns. Comparing devices, social media usage, or more nuanced topics like privacy and security, can only resonate with a general audience if it ties to more common themes like connection, safety, or shared experience — tech savvy without being overly technical.”
When creating content for travel, it’s important to make sure there are actionable takeaways in the content. If there aren’t, it can be hard for publishers to justify covering it.
“Travel writers love to extract ‘tips’ from the content they’re provided. If your project provides helpful information to travelers or little-known statistics on flights and amenities, you’re likely to gain a lot of traction in the travel vertical,” says Delaney Kline, Brand Promotions. “Come up with these ideal statistics before creating your project and use them as a template for your work.”
Health and fitness
In the health and wellness world, it can seem like everyone is giving advice. If you’re not a doctor, however, err on the side of caution when speaking about specific topics. Try not to pit any particular standard against another. Be careful around diet culture and mental health topics, specifically.
“Try striking a balance between physical and mental well-being, particularly being careful to not glorify or objectify one standard while demeaning others,” says Matt Gillespie, Data Science. “Emphasize overall wellness as opposed to focus on a single area. In this vertical, you need to be especially careful with whatever is trending. Do the legwork to understand the research, or lack thereof, behind the big topics of the moment.”
Improving content in any vertical
While you can certainly tailor your content production and promotion to your specific niche, there are also some guidelines you can follow to improve the chances that you’ll get more media coverage for your content overall.
Create content with a headline in mind
When you begin mapping out your content, identify what you want the outcome to look like. Before you even begin, ask yourself: what do you want people to learn from your content? What are the elements of the content you’re producing that journalists will find compelling for their audiences?
For example, we wrote a survey in which we wanted to compare the levels of cooking experience across different generations. We hypothesized that we’d see some discrepancies between boomers and millennials specifically, and given that millennials ruin everything, it was a good time to join the discussion.
As it turns out, only 64% of millennials could correctly identify a butter knife. Publishers jumped at the stats revealing millennials have a tough time in the kitchen. Having a thesis and an idea of what we wanted the project to look like in advance had a tremendous positive impact on our results.
Appeal to the emotionality of people
In past research on the emotions that make content go viral, we learned that negative content may have a better chance of going viral if it is also surprising. Nothing embodies this combination of emotional drivers than a project we did for a travel client in which we used germ swabs to determine the dirtiest surfaces on airplanes.
This campaign did so well (and continues to earn links to this day) that it’s actually excluded from our vertical benchmarks analysis as we consider it a viral outlier.
Why did this idea work? Most people travel via plane at least once a year, and everyone wants to avoid getting sick while traveling. So, a data-backed report like this one that also yielded some click-worthy headlines is sure to exceed your outreach goals.
Evergreen content wins (sometimes)
You may have noticed from the analysis above that, of the seven topics we chose to look at, the sports vertical has the lowest average dofollows and total press mentions of any other category.
For seasoned content marketers, this is very understandable. Unlike the other verticals, the sports beat is an ever-changing and fast-paced news cycle that’s hard for content marketers to have a presence in. However, for our sports clients we achieve success by understanding this system and working with it — not trying to be louder than it.
One technique we’ve found that works for sports campaigns (as well as other sectors with fast-paced news cycles such as entertainment or politics) is to come up with content that is both timely and evergreen. By capitalizing on the current interests around major sporting events (timely) and creating an idea that would work on any given day of the year (evergreen) we can produce content that’s the best of both worlds, and that will still have legs once the timeliness wears off.
In a series of campaigns for one sports client, we took a look at the evolution of sports jerseys and chose teams with loyal fan bases such as the New York Yankees, Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos, and Chicago Bears.
The sports niche has an ongoing, fast-paced news cycle that changes every day, if not every hour. Reporters are busy covering by-the-minute breaking news, games, statistics, rankings, trades, personal player news, and injuries. This makes it one of the most challenging verticals to compete in. By capitalizing on teams of interest throughout the year, we were able to squeeze projects into tight editorial calendars and earn our client some press.
For example, timing couldn’t have been better when we pitched “Evolution of the Football Jersey”. We pitched this campaign to USA Today right before the tenacious playoffs in which the Steelers and the Redskins played. Time was of the essence — the editor wrote and published this article within 24 hours and our client enjoyed a lot of good syndication from the powerful publication. In total, the one placement resulted in 15 dofollow links and over 45 press mentions. Not bad for a few transforming GIFs!
Top it off with the best practices in pitching
If you have great content and you have a set of realistic expectations for that content, all that’s left is to distribute it and collect those links and press mentions.
In a survey of over 500 journalists in 2019, I asked online editors and writers what their biggest PR pitch pet peeves were. When you conduct content marketing outreach, avoid these top-listed items and you’ll be good to go:
While you might get away with sending one too many follow-ups, most of the offenses on this list are just that — totally offensive to the writer you’re trying to pitch.
Avoid mass email blasts, personalize your pitch, and triple-check that the person you’re contacting is receptive to your content before you hit send.
While there are certainly some characteristics that all great content should have, there are ways to increase the chances your content will be engaging within a specific vertical. Research what your particular audience is interested in, and be sure to measure your results realistically based on how content generally performs in your space.
In the fall of 2018 our CEO had a simple yet head-exploding request of the JotForm marketing and growth teams: Produce 100,000 words of high-quality written content in a single month.
All types of content would count toward the goal, including posts on our own blog, help guides, template descriptions, and guest posts and sponsored articles on other sites.
In case you don’t think that sounds like a lot, 100,000 words is the length of a 400-page book. Produced in a single month. By a group of JotFormers who then numbered fewer than eight.
Why would on Earth would he want us to do all that?
It’s important to understand intent here. Our CEO, Aytekin, isn’t a crazy man. He didn’t send us on a mission just to keep us busy.
You see, for many months we’d dabbled with content, and it was working. Aytekin’s contributed posts in Entrepreneur magazine and on Medium were big hits. Our redesigned blog was picking up a lot of traction with the content we already had, and we were starting to understand SEO a lot better.
Still. Why would any software company need to produce that much content?
The answer is simple: infrastructure. If we could build a content engine that produces a high volume of quality content, then we could learn what works well and double down on creating great content. But in order to sustain success in content, we needed to have the pieces in place.
He allocated a sufficient budget and gave us the freedom to hire the staff we needed to make it happen. We were going to need it.
A full year later, I’m very proud to say we’ve officially crossed over the 100,000-word count in a single month [hold for applause].
However, it didn’t come without some painful learnings and mistakes.
Here’s what I figured out about scaling content through this process.
Develop a system early
Our old editorial calendar was a Google sheet. I started it back when JotForm was publishing one or two blogs per week and needed a way to keep it organized. It worked.
Back then, the only people who needed to view the editorial calendar were three people on the marketing staff and a couple of designers.
However, no spreadsheet on earth will be functional when you’re loading up 100,000 words. It’s too complicated. We discovered this right away.
After much discussion, we migrated our editorial workflow into Asana, which seemed like the closest thing to what we needed. It has a nice calendar view, the tagging functionality helped keep things orderly, and the board view gives a great overview of everyone’s projects.
This is where our marketing team lives.
Counterintuitively, we also use Trello, since it’s what our growth team had already been using to manage projects. Once the marketing team finishes writing a post, we send a request to our growth team designers to create banners for them using a form that integrates with their Trello board.
The system is intricate, but it works. We’d be lost if we hadn’t spent time creating it.
Style guides are your friends
Speaking of things to develop before you can really grow your content machine. Style guides are paramount to maintaining consistency, which becomes trickier and trickier the more writers you enlist to help you reach your content goals.
We consider our style guide to be a sort of living, ever-changing document. We add to it all the time.
It’s also the first thing that any legitimate writer will want to see when they’re about to contribute something to your site, whether they’re submitting a guest post, doing paid freelance work, or they’re your own in-house content writer.
Things to include in a basic style guide: an overview of writing style and tone, grammar and mechanics, punctuation particulars, product wording clarifications, and formatting.
Cheap writing will cost you, dearly
If you want cheap writing, you can find it. It’s everywhere — Upwork, Express Writers, WriterAccess. You name it, we tried it. And for less than $60 a blog post, what self-respecting marketing manager wouldn’t at least try it?
I’m here to tell you it’s a mistake.
I was thrilled when the drafts started rolling in. But our editor had other thoughts. It was taking too much time to make them good — nay, readable.
That was an oversight on my end, and it created a big bottleneck. We created such a backlog of cheap content (because it was cheap and I could purchase LOTS of it at a time) that it halted our progress on publishing content in a timely manner.
Instead, treat your freelance and content agencies as partners, and take the time to find good ones. Talk to them on the phone, exhaustively review their writing portfolio, and see if they really understand what you’re trying to accomplish. It’ll cost more money in the short term, but the returns are significant.
But good writing won’t mask subject ignorance
One thing to check with any content agency or freelancer you work with is their research process. The good ones will lean on subject matter experts (SMEs) to actually become authorities on the subjects they write about. It’s a tedious step, for both you and the writer, but it’s an important one.
The not-so-good ones? They’ll wing it and try to find what they can online. Sometimes they can get away with it, and sometimes someone will read your article and have this to say:
That was harsh.
But they had a point. While the article in question was well-written, it wasn’t written by someone who knew much about the subject at hand, which in this case was photography. Lesson learned. Make sure whoever you hire to write will take the time to know what they’re talking about.
Build outreach into your process
Let’s be real here. For 99.9 percent of you, content marketing is SEO marketing. That’s mostly the case with us as well. We do publish thought leadership and product-education posts with little SEO value, but a lot of what we write is published with the hope that it pleases The Google. Praise be.
But just publishing your content is never enough. You need links, lots of them.
Before I go any further, understand that there’s a right and a wrong way to get links back to your content.
Three guidelines for getting links to your content:
1. Create good content.
2. Find a list of reputable, high-ranking sites that are authorities on the subject you wrote about.
3. Ask them about linking or guest posting on their site in a respectful way that also conveys value to their organization.
That’s it. Don’t waste your time on crappy sites or link scams. Don’t spam people’s inboxes with requests. Don’t be shady or deal with shady people.
Create good content, find high-quality sites to partner with, and offer them value.
Successful content is a numbers game
One benefit to creating as much content as we have is that we can really see what’s worked and what hasn’t. And it’s not as easy to predict as you might think.
One of our most successful posts, How to Start and Run a Summer Camp, wasn’t an especially popular one among JotFormers in the planning stage, primarily because the topic didn’t have a ton of monthly searches for the targeted keywords we were chasing. But just a few months after it went live, it became one of our top-performing posts in terms of monthly searches, and our best in terms of converting readers to JotForm users.
Point being, you don’t really know what will work for you until you try a bunch of options.
You’ll need to hire the right people in-house
In a perfect world JotForm employees would be able to produce every bit of content we need. But that’s not realistic for a company of our size. Still, there were some roles we absolutely needed to bring in-house to really kick our content into high gear.
Here are some hires we made to build our content infrastructure:
This was the first dedicated content hire we ever made. It marked our first real plunge into the world of content marketing. Having someone in-house who can write means you can be flexible. When last-minute or deeply product-focused writing projects come up, you need someone in-house to deliver.
Our full-time editor created JotForm’s style guide from scratch, which she uses to edit every single piece of content that we produce. She’s equal parts editor and project manager, since she effectively owns the flow of the Asana board.
Our smaller writing projects didn’t disappear just because we wanted to load up on long-form blog posts. Quite the contrary. Our copywriters tackle template descriptions that help count toward our goal, while also writing landing page text, email marketing messages, video scripts, and social media posts.
One of the most difficult components of creating regular content is coming up with ideas. I made an early assumption that writers would come up with things to write; I was way off base. Writers have a very specialized skill that actually has little overlap with identifying and researching topics based on SEO value, relevance to our audience, and what will generate clicks from social media. So we have a strategist.
Content operations specialist
When you aim for tens of thousands of words of published content over the course of a month, the very act of coordinating the publishing of a post becomes a full-time job. At JotForm, most of our posts also need a custom graphic designed by our design team. Our content operations specialist coordinates design assets and makes sure everything looks good in WordPress before scheduling posts.
Our SEO manager had already been doing work on JotForm’s other pages, but he redirected much of his attention to our content goals once we began scaling. He works with our content strategist on the strategy and monitors and reports on the performance of the articles we publish.
JotForm’s blog wasn’t starting from scratch when Aytekin posed the 100,000-word challenge. It was already receiving about 120,000 organic site visitors a month from the posts we’d steadily written over the years.
A year later we receive about 230,000 monthly organic searches, and that’s no accident.
The past year also marked our foray into the world of pillar pages.
For the uninitiated, pillar pages are (very) long-form, authoritative pieces that cover all aspects of a specific topic in the hopes that search engines will regard them as a resource.
These are incredibly time-consuming to write, but they drive buckets full of visitors to your page.
We’re getting more than 30,000 visitors a month — all from pillar pages we’ve published within the last year.
To date, our focus on content marketing has improved our organic search to the tune of about 150,000 additional site visitors per month, give or take.
Content isn’t easy. That was the biggest revelation for me, even though it shouldn’t have been. It takes a large team of people with very specialized skills to see measurable success. Doing it at large scale requires a prodigious commitment in both money and time, even if you aren’t tasked with writing 100,000 words a month.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to make it work for you, on whatever scale that makes the most sense.
There really aren’t any secrets to growing your content engine. No magic recipe. It’s just a matter of putting the resources you have into making it happen.
Best of all, this post just gave us about 2,000 words toward this month’s word count goal.
63% of American households engage in at least one crafting project annually, while more than one in four participate in 5+ per year.
The top three craft store chains in the country (Michaels, JOANN, Hobby Lobby) operate nearly 3,000 locations, just among themselves.
There are an estimated 3,200 US storefronts devoted to quilting alone. Thousands more vend everything from the stuff of ancient arts (knitting, with a 1,000-year history) to the trendy and new (unicorn slime, which, yes, is really a thing).
Our local search marketing industry has devoted abundant time to advising major local business categories over the past couple of decades, but crafting is one substantial retail niche we may have overlooked. I’d like to rectify this today.
I feel personally inspired by craft store owners. Over the years, I’ve learned to sew, quilt, embroider, crochet, knit, and bead, and before I became a local search marketer, I was a working fine artist. I even drafted a sewing pattern once that was featured in a crafting magazine. Through my own exploration of arts and crafts, I’ve come to know so many independent business owners in this industry, and have marketed several of them. These are gutsy people who take risks, work extremely hard for their living, and often zestfully embrace any education they can access about marketing.
Today, I’m offering my six best marketing tips for craft retailers for a more successful and profitable 2020.
First, a quick definition of local search marketing
Your store is your location. Your market is made up of all of your customers’ locations. Anything you do to promote your location to the market you serve is considered local search marketing. Your market could be your neighborhood, your city, or a larger local region. Local search marketing can include both offline efforts, like hanging eye-catching signage or getting mentioned in local print news, and online efforts, like having a website, building listings on local business listing platforms, and managing customer reviews.
Whatever you do to increase local awareness about your location, interact online with customers, bring them through your front door, serve them in-store, and follow up with them afterwards in an ongoing relationship counts. You’re already doing some of this, and in the words of Martha Stewart, “It’s a good thing.” But with a little more attention and intention, these six tips can craft even greater success for your business:
1. Take a page from my Google scrapbook
To engage in local search marketing is to engage with Google. Since they first started mapping out communities and businesses in 2004, the search engine giant has come to dominate the online local scene. There are other important online platforms, but to be in front of the maximum number of potential customers and to compete for rankings in Google’s local search results, your crafting business needs to:
Read the Guidelines for representing your business on Google and follow them to the letter. This set of rules tells you what you can and can’t do in the Google My Business product. Listing your business incorrectly or violating the guidelines in any way can result in listing suspension and other negative outcomes.
Reckon with Google’s power. As our scrapbook says, Google owns your Google My Business listing, but you can take a lot of control over some of its contents. Even once you’ve verified your listing, it’s still open to suggested edits from the public, questions, reviews, user-uploaded photos and other activities. Main takeaway: your GMB listing is not a one-and-done project. It’s an interactive platform that you will be monitoring and managing from here on out.
2. Weave a strong web presence
Your Google My Business listing will likely be the biggest driver of traffic to your craft store, but you’ll want to cast your online net beyond this. Once you feel confident about the completeness and ongoing management of your GMB listing, there are 4 other strands of Internet activity for you to take firm hold of:
At bare minimum, your website should feature:
Your complete and accurate name, address, phone number, email, and fax number
Clear written driving directions to your place of business from all points of entry
A good text description of everything you sell and offer
An up-to-date list of all upcoming classes and events
Some high-quality photos of your storefront and merchandise
A more sophisticated website can also feature:
Articles and blog posts
Full inventory, including e-commerce shopping
Customer reviews and testimonials
Online classes, webinars and video tutorials
Customer-generated content, including photos, forums, etc.
The investment you make in your website should be based on how much you need to do to create a web presence that surpasses your local competitors. Depending on where your store is located, you may need only a modest site, or may need to go further to rank highly in Google’s search engine results and win the maximum number of customers.
Your other local listings
Beyond Google, your business listings on other online platforms like Yelp, Facebook, Bing, Apple Maps, Factual, Foursquare, and Infogroup can ensure that customers are encountering your business across a wide variety of sites and apps. Listings in these local business information indexes are sometimes referred to as “structured citations” and you have two main choices for building and maintaining them:
You can manually build a listing on each important platform and check back on it regularly to manage your reviews and other content on it, as well as to ensure that the basic contact info hasn’t been changed by the platform or the public in any way.
You can invest in local listings management software like Moz Local, which automates creation of these listings and gives you a simple dashboard that helps you respond to reviews, post new content, and be alerted to any emerging inaccuracies across key listing platforms, all in one place. This option can be a major time saver and deliver welcome peace of mind.
Structured citation management is critical to any local business for two key reasons. Firstly, it can be a source of valuable consumer discovery and new customers for your shop. Secondly, it ensures you aren’t losing customers to frustrating misinformation. One recent survey found that 22% of customers ended up at the wrong location of a business because online information about it was incorrect, and that 80% of them lost trust in the company when encountering such misinformation. Brick-and-mortar stores can’t afford to inconvenience or lose a single customer, and that’s why managing all your listings for accuracy is worth the investment of time/money.
Your unstructured citations
As we’ve just covered, a formal listing on a local business platform is called a “structured citation.” Unstructured citations, by contrast, are mentions of your business on any type of website: local online news, industry publications, a crafter’s blog, and lists of local attractions all count.
Anywhere your business can get mentioned on a relevant online publication can help customers discover you. And if trusted, authoritative websites link to yours when they mention your business, those links can directly improve your search engine rankings.
If you’re serving a market with little local competition, you may not need to invest a ton of time in seeking out unstructured citation opportunities. But if a nearby competitor is outranking you and you need to get ahead, earning high-quality mentions and links can be the best recipe for surpassing them. All of the following can be excellent sources of unstructured citations:
Sponsoring or participating in local events, organizations, teams, and causes
Hosting newsworthy happenings that get written up by local journalists
Holding contests and challenges that earn public mention
Joining local business organizations
Cross promoting with related local businesses
Getting featured/interviewed by online crafting magazines, fora, blogs, and videos
YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, crafting forums…choices abound! How much time and where you invest in social media should be determined by two things:
What your local competition is doing
Where your potential customers spend social time
If your shop is literally the only game in town, you may not need to win at social to win business, but if you have multiple competitors, strategic social media investments can set you apart as the most helpful, most popular local option.
In your social efforts, emphasize sharing, showing and telling — not just selling. If you keep this basic principle in mind, the DIY revolution is at your fingertips, waiting to be engaged. One thing I’ve learned about crafters is that they will travel. Quilting retreats, knitting tours, and major craft expos prove this.
If you or a staff member happen to create one of the most-viewed videos on YouTube for the three-needle bind off or crafting felt succulents, it could inspire travelers to put your shop on their bucket list. One of my favorite knitters in the world films the English/Swedish language Kammebornia podcast which is so idyllic, it would certainly inspire me to visit the island of Gotland if I were ever anywhere nearby. Think what you can do via social media to make your shop an aspirational destination for even non-local customers.
3. Abandon fear of ripping out mistakes (and negative reviews)
As the old adage goes, “Good knitters are good rippers.” When you drop a stitch in an important project, you have to know how to see it, patiently rip out stitches back to it, and correct the mistake as skillfully as you can. This exact same technique applies to managing the reviews customers leave you online. When your business “drops the ball” for a customer and disappoints them, you can often go back and correct the error.
Reviews = your business’ reputation. It’s as simple (and maybe scary) as that. Consider these statistics about the power of local business reviews:
87% of consumers read local business reviews (BrightLocal)
27% of people who look for local information are actually seeking reviews about a particular store. (Streetfight Mag)
30% of consumers say seeing business owners’ responses to reviews are key to them judging the company. (BrightLocal)
73.8 percent of customers are either likely or extremely likely to continue doing business with a brand that resolves their complaints. (GatherUp)
To be competitive, your craft store must earn reviews. Many business owners feel apprehensive about negative reviews, but the good news is:
You can “rip out” some negative reviews simply by responding well to them. The owner response function actually makes reviews conversational, and a customer you’ve made things right with can edit their initial review to a more positive one.
Most consumers expect a business to receive some negative reviews. Multiple surveys find that a perfect 5 star rating can look suspicious to shoppers.
If you continuously monitor reviews, either manually or via convenient software like Moz Local that alerts you to incoming reviews, there is little to fear, because customers are more forgiving than you might have thought.
By 2021, mobile devices alone will influence $1.4 trillion in local sales. (Forrester)
There may be no retailer left in American who hasn’t felt the Amazon effect, but as a craft shop owner, you have an amazing advantage so many other industries lack. Crafters want to touch textiles and fibers before buying, to hold fabrics up to their faces, to see true colors, and handle highly tactile merchandise like beads and wood. When it comes to fulfilling the five senses, online shopping is miles behind what you can provide face-to-face.
And it’s not just customers’ desire to interact with products that sets you apart — it’s their desire to interact with experts. As pattern designer Amy Barickman of Indygo Junction perfectly sums it up:
“To survive and thrive, brick-and-mortar stores must now provide experiences that cannot be replicated online.”
The expertise of your staff, the classes you hold, and tie-in services you offer, the sensory appeal of your storefront, the time you take to build relationships with customers all contribute to creating valued interactions which the Internet just can’t replace.
Play to your strengths. In every way that you market your business, emphasize hands-on experiences to draw people off their computers and into your store. In every ad you run, blog post you write, phone call you answer, listing you build, invite people to come in to engage all five senses at your place of business. Soft lighting and music, a tea kiosk, fragrant fresh flowers, some comfy chairs, and plenty of tactile merchandise are all within your reach, making shopping a pleasure which customers will want to enjoy again and again.
5. Learn to read your competitors’ patterns
Need to know: there are no #1 rankings on Google. Google customizes the search engine results they show to each person, based on where that person is physically located at the time they look something up on their phone or computer. You can walk or drive around your city, performing the identical search, and watch the rankings change in the:
If you’re doing business in an area with few competitors, you may only need to be aware of one or two other companies. But when competition is more dense and diverse, or you operate multiple locations, the need for competitive analysis can grow exponentially. And for each potential customer, the set of businesses you’re competing with changes, based on that customer’s location.
How can you visualize and strategize for this? You have two options:
If competition is quite low, you can manually find your true local competitors with this tutorial. It includes a free spreadsheet for helping you figure out which businesses are ranking for your most desired searches for the customers nearest you. This is a basic, doable approach for very small businesses.
If your environment is competitive or you are marketing a large, enterprise craft store brand, you can automate analysis with software. Local Market Analytics from Moz, for example, is designed to do all the work of finding true competitors for you. This groundbreaking product multi-samples searchers’ locations and helps you analyze your strongest and weakest markets. Currently, Local Market Analytics focuses on organic results, and it will soon include data on local pack results, too.
Once you’ve completed this first task, you have one more step ahead if you find that some of your competitors are outranking you. You’ll want to stack up your metrics against theirs to analyze why they are surpassing you. Good news: we’ve got another tutorial and free spreadsheet for this project! What emerges from the work is a pattern of strengths and weaknesses that signal why Google is ranking some businesses ahead of others.
Knowing who your competitors are and gathering metrics about why they may be outranking you is what empowers you to create a winning local search marketing strategy. Whether you find you need more reviews, a stronger website, or some other improvement, you’ll be working from data instead of making random guesses about how to grow your business.
6. Open your grab bag
Every craft store and craft fair has its grab bags, and who can resist them? I’d like to close out this article by spilling a trove of marketing goodies into your hands. Sort through them and see if there’s a fresh idea in here that could really work for your business to take it to the next level.
Be more! This year, Michaels has partnered with UPS at 1,100 locations in a convenience experiment. You run a craft store, but could it be more? Is there something lacking in your local market that your shop could double as? A meeting house, a lending library, an adult classroom, a tea shop, a Wi-Fi spot, a holiday boutique, a place for live music?
Tie in! Your quilt shop can support apparel sewers with a few extra solids, textiles, and some fun patterns. Your yarn shop can find a nook for needle arts. Your woodshop could offer wooden needles for knitting and crochet, wooden hoops for embroidery, wood buttons, stamps, and a variety of wood boxes for crafters. You may sell everything needed for beading jewelry, but do you have the necessary supplies to bead clothing? Crafters are hungry for local resources for every kind of project, especially in rural areas, suburbs, and other communities where there are few businesses.
Teach! There are so many arts and crafts that are incredibly challenging to learn without being shown, face-to-face. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a grandparent or parent to demo exactly how you do a long tail cast on or master the dovetail joint. If you want to sell merchandise, show how to use it. Look at JOANN, which just unveiled its new concept store in Columbus, Ohio, centered on a “Creators Studio”. One independent fabric shop near me devotes half its floorspace to classes for children — the next generation of customers!
Email! Don’t make the mistake of thinking email is old school. Statistics say that 47% of marketers point to email marketing as delivering the highest ROI and 69% of consumers prefer to receive local business communications via email. If you’re one of the 50% of small business owners who hasn’t yet taken the leap of creating an email newsletter, do it!
Survey! Don’t guess what to stock or how to do business. Directly ask your customers via email, social media, and in-store surveys what they really want. I’ve seen businesses abandon scented products because they found they were deterring migraine-prone shoppers. I’ve seen others implement special ordering services to source hard-to-access items in-store instead of letting consumer drift away to the online world. Giving the customer what they want is the absolute key to your store’s success.
Go green! Whether it’s powering your shop with solar, supporting upcycling crafts, or stocking organic and sustainable inventory, embrace and promote every green practice you can engage in. Numerous studies cite the younger generations as being particularly defined by responsible consumption. Demonstrate solidarity with their aspirations in the way you operate and market.
Doers, makers, creators, crafters, artisans, artists… your business exists to support their drive to embellish personal and public life. When you need to grow your business, you’ll be drawing from the same source of inspiration that all creative people do: the ability to imagine, to envision a plan, to color outside the lines, to gather the materials you need to make something great.
Local search marketing is a template for ensuring that your business is ready to serve every crafter at every stage of their journey, from the first spark of an idea, to discovery of local resources, to transaction, and beyond. I hope you’ll take the template I’ve sketched out for you today and make it your own for a truly rewarding 2020.
A roller is a good tool for painting a house in big, broad strokes. But creating a masterpiece of art requires finer brushes.
Franchises face a unique challenge here: they know how to market at the national level, but often lack the detailed tools for reaching their local customers at a granular level. Google has stated that localization of search results is the greatest form of personalization they currently engage in. For franchises, where local sensitivity is lacking in the marketing plan, opportunity is being lost.
Don’t settle for this. Know that less-motivated competitors are losing this opportunity, too. This creates a large, blank canvas for a franchise you’re marketing to paint a new picture which takes state, regional and community nuances into account.
One famous example of localized marketing is McDonald’s offering SPAM in Hawaii and green chile cheeseburgers in New Mexico. For your franchise, it could revolve around customizing content for regional language differences (sub sandwich vs. po’ boy), or knowing when to promote seasonal merchandise at which locations (California vs. North Dakota weather).
What you need is marketing plan capable of scaling from national priorities to hyperlocal customers. Want the complete strategy now?
From paint roller to sumi-e brush: A franchise marketing plan
Today, we’ll explore the basics of getting to know your local customers, so that your national franchise can customize how you serve them. Build a strategy around the following:
Your step-by-step guide to how to create a local marketing strategy
Finding your target audience
First, you need to understand who your customers are. If you have an existing franchise, you can do this fairly easily by simply observing or asking them. You might run an online survey, or you might do some quick spot interviews right in your place of business. What you want to work out is:
Demographics: What are the common ages, genders, income levels, and other relevant characteristics of your customers.
Psychographics: How do your customers think? What are their attitudes, behaviors and beliefs as they relate to your franchise?
Pain points: What problems do your customers have that you could potentially solve? Maybe they want to eat healthy but have no time. Maybe they want a gym that will help them become better athletes.
Consumption habits: How do your customers decide where to buy? Are they online? Do they have smartphones? Do they prioritize reviews/recommendations? Do they like video, or podcasts? Which social platforms do they frequent? What events do they attend?
Understanding the customer’s journey
Marketers spend a lot of time thinking about what we call the “customer journey.” This is just another way of saying we want to understand what happens between us and customers before they know our brand exist, after they discover it, up until they buy, and then beyond.
The best way to do this is to divide that experience into steps, understanding that some people will drop out of the process at every stage. Most corporate franchisers will recognize this as the “sales funnel.”
Here’s a simplified version of a sales funnel. Take the time to determine what happens at each stage in your own customers’ experience, and you’ll be a long way toward understanding how you can influence and help customers from one step to the next.
Mapping a sales funnel
Awareness This is where a customer first discovers you exist and starts to form an opinion about you based on what they see. Often, this is managed by the activities being conducted by corporate franchisors (like a national TV ad campaign). But, it can also happen through franchisee-generated references and referrals (like a searcher discovering you via a Google Maps search on their phone).
Discovery This is where a customer has already absorbed information about you and your product and begins to actively try to learn more about it. This stage often encompasses online research. It local word-of-mouth queries between potential customers and their friends and family.
Evaluation This is where a customer has decided to probably purchase something similar to what you offer, but is trying to decide where to buy. They might stop by your business in this stage, or they may give you a call. They might visit your online website or listings to look at your hours, or menu or price list. This stage is influenced by both franchisor and franchisee activity.
Intent Now the customer has decided to buy from you — which means they are your customer to lose. Franchisors can lose them at this stage through misinformation in the brand’s local business listings — like incorrect hours or bad directions that lead customers to the wrong place and cause them to give up. Franchisees could lose the business through poor on-premises experiences — like uncleanliness, long wait times, low inventory, pricing, or poor customer service.
Purchase This is where the transaction takes place, and is generally entirely within the control of the franchisee.
Loyalty This stage determines whether the customer will return to buy again, and whether or not they will become an advocate for your business, give you good reviews, or rate you poorly. Again, this is typically within the control of the franchisee unless the issue is a decision made at the franchisor level, such as product/menu, pricing or policy.
Sometimes this whole funnel can take place in the time it takes to spot a sign for ice cream and purchase a double scoop sundae. Sometimes it may take weeks, as your customers labor over the right financial advisor to choose.
Understanding how your customer is thinking and what goes into making the decision to use you is important and will guide decision-making and sales activity at both the franchisor and franchisee levels.
Scoping out the competition
Most brands have already worked out their positioning with regard to other national brands, so this one is mainly for franchisees. Take some time to figure out who your direct competitors are in your local market. They might be other big brands, but there will also probably be local SMBs that are not on the corporate franchisor’s radar.
Where they are stronger or weaker, compared to you
Who they attract, compared to you
How they are marketing their business
Having this information should help you to position yourself to win a bigger piece of the local pie. Is your competitor a gym that has better weight training and machines than you? Are they marketing mainly to younger men and athletes? Are they advertising on local radio? Perhaps you should double down on your cardio and yoga classes and try to attract more women or older clientele. Maybe adding some nutrition classes will encourage people trying to lose weight. And so on.
Building your authority
Once you’ve figured out who your customers are, how they buy, and how you plan to position your franchise in the local market, it’s time to put that plan into action by creating some content to support it.
For franchisors at corporate this means putting in the time to create an informative, interesting brand website with dynamic, engaging content. Your content should aim to educate, inform and/or entertain, rather than only sell. The more points of engagement your website offers to customers, the more reason they have to read, share, and link to your content, building authority. Your most valuable content will, of course, be the elements or pages that directly convert visitors into customers.
The content you put out over social media should follow this same precept, and lead back to your site as often as possible. Experts suggest that “60% of your posts you create should be engaging, timely content, 30% should be shared content, and only 10% should be promoting your products & services.” (Medium)
Invest some time in link building, in order to show Google’s algorithm how influential your site is and boost your authority and ranking.
Here are a few tips:
Use Moz’s “Find Opportunities” feature to locate sites which are linking to your competitors and not you (yet).
Look for people who are already referencing your site and ask them to hyperlink to you.
Do a little PR or news-making and ask articles to link to your site. (This is something local franchisees can excel at.)
Ask for links from local trade organizations, community organizations or commerce groups.
Sponsor events and ask for a link.
Start a scholarship and post it on local .edu sites.
Armed with good, authoritative content and an effective website, you’ll want to focus on how you manage all the channels available to you. This also includes managing your budget effectively. Most franchisor budgets are focused on the brand, and many franchisees don’t have a lot left over for local marketing, but here are some things to think about.
Listings first: Your listings aren’t expensive to manage, but they give your marketing it’s biggest overall value — in some cases literally guiding people to your registers. Make great local business listings your top priority.
Claim everything: Franchisors, be sure you are the one in control of your directory listings and social profiles. Complete your Google My Business profile and establish a presence on key social media and review platforms like Facebook and Yelp.
Budget wisely: Do the strategy work to understand who your customers are and how best to reach them before you allocate your franchisor or franchisee marketing dollars.
Pointillism for franchises
Adept franchise marketing requires the eye of Seurat: the ability to see life in hundreds of tiny points, making up a masterpiece. For you, franchise pointillism includes:
Points representing each customer
Points for the customer’s community, as a whole
Points representing your locations on the map
Points across the web where engagement happens
Points offline where engagement happens
Points of resource at all levels of the franchise, from franchisor to franchisee
Ready for expert help from Moz in seeing the finer points? Download your copy:
I’ve always considered the most challenging part about digital marketing to be prioritizing.
There are hundreds of tactics available to you, and it can be overwhelming to determine which of them are most appropriate for your marketing goals and your target audience. (And we all know what happens when you try to do too much — you do it all poorly.)
It’s critical to analyze the attitudes and behaviors of your current and potential clients/customers in order to best communicate with them in the methods they prefer.
But every now and then, it’s also helpful to zoom out and see how different marketing tactics are faring in general.
That’s why we surveyed 500+ Americans, asking them their thoughts on a variety of inbound and outbound marketing tactics.
Our objective was to better understand which tactics might be most effective on a broad scale and how people might feel about the various tactics they encounter.
Here are the biggest insights.
1. Very few channels “die”
Here’s the thing: The marketing industry experiences a constant ebb and flow. A tactic like email marketing becomes popular, everyone does it, the space becomes diluted, and then other tactics start to gain traction as people seek out “quieter” channels.
That doesn’t mean those tactics no longer work. It just means it becomes harder for your message to be seen because the volume of content out there for people to read is expansive. You have to work harder for it, have an intimate understanding of the information your audience wants, and test relentlessly.
The prime example of this revealed in this survey is that when asked what people think is the best way to attract their business, they picked snail mail (53.31%) over email (38.37%).
A couple of years ago, I’d never have thought to consider direct mail over email. It’s costly and people tend to find mail cumbersome, sending a lot of it straight to the trash.
But over time, some have started to feel that way about email. It’s hard to filter out all of the spam, discern between good pitches and bad ones, and just sort through what feels like an endless stream of messages. Direct mail has started to feel more like a novelty. In fact, 28% of our respondents said they’ve never clicked on the “Promotions” Gmail tab.
The takeaway: Don’t let anyone tell you a channel is dead (except for maybe MySpace and other sites that are abandoned.) Take advantage of “quiet” channels but only if it makes sense for your audience. Focus on them, and the appropriate channel for you will become more obvious.
Privacy has certainly been a hot topic these days, but we shouldn’t be focusing solely on GDPR and other regulations (that’s where don’t be intrusive comes in). It’s not just about what’s legal — it’s also about what’s off-putting. Unsurprisingly, people don’t like to feel like they’re being oddly approached or “followed” online (or anywhere).
That probably explains why our survey found that of the 78% of people who said they notice retargeted ads, 56% have negative feelings toward them. That’s a pretty large amount of negativity for a tactic. In a separate question, 53% said they have ad blockers, choosing to bypass ads altogether.
Outbound marketing is about reaching out to people cold, but there’s an art to this.
Traditional advertising achieves No. 2 on the sentiment scale, and my interpretation of this is that people are so used to seeing advertisements on television and hearing them on the radio that it no longer has an intrusive vibe.
Email, sponsored social media posts, and ads still can carry that feeling, though.
Does that mean you shouldn’t utilize these tactics? Of course not. It does mean you have to be very strategy in applying them, though, or you’ll turn off your audience almost immediately.
The takeaway: When utilizing outbound strategies, make sure the recipients understand why they’re receiving the information and ensure what you’re providing speaks to a want or need of theirs. Make the value you’re providing immediately clear.
For example, I made a reservation at an Italian restaurant called Osteria Morini about a year ago. I received an email from them with the subject line “Fall Pasta Classes are Here!” Even though I didn’t remember signing up for their updates, I opened the email because I knew exactly what they were trying to tell me and I was interested. I also just went back and checked; they’ve only emailed me once since the reservation. That’s an extreme — I don’t advocate you sending one email a year — but only send emails with real value.
3. Prioritize search
It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that search engine optimization won out as one of the strongest strategies out there.
Notice in the first graph in the article that appearing in search results was listed as the best way to earn respondents’ business, and in the second graph, you’ll see that reading the type of content you’d find on those results carries the best sentiment.
Not only is it effective, but it’s also a common practice.
Using search engines to find answers is essentially an inherent online experience; nearly everyone does it, and if you’re not showing up in the SERPs, you can be missing out on massive opportunities to increase your brand awareness, connect with potential clients/customers, and build authority in your space.
I’d say authority is a huge piece of why search is so important to people. When you rank highly, it’s almost like the online equivalent of being published — “people” (other sites and Google) — vouch for you.
The authority piece is greater represented in the graph above. Reading customer reviews comes in right behind performing searches for how people learn more about a company or product, because people are constantly looking for authority and quality indicators in order to make the best decisions possible. (This is why E-A-T has been such a hot topic lately.)
The takeaway: SEO should always be a primary objective of your marketing team. If you’re in a competitive space and finding it difficult to rank for your target keywords, focus on the long-tail for queries that are directly relevant to your business. That way, you’re building authority with people who are already close to becoming customers/clients.
For example, when searching for daily planners, I noticed there are a few related keywords regarding daily planners that start as early as 5 a.m. The Better Dayplanner has an article that ranks for these types of keywords, meaning that people looking for something very specific will see them first. Sure, the search volume is low, but the traffic is as relevant as you can get.
After reading through this article (and reviewing the full inbound and outbound marketing survey), you can get a sense of which of your tactics may need modifying and which opportunities may be present. There’s no universally right or wrong answer; it’s highly dependent on the specifics of your brand and your target audience. But knowing general trends and preferences can help you shape your strategy so it’s as effective as possible.
Can franchises make good digital marketing agency clients? There are almost 750,000 of them in the US alone, employing some 9 million Americans. Chances are good you’ll have the opportunity to market a business with this specialized model at some point. In this structure:
The Franchisor grants permission to others to operate under its trademark, selling approved goods and services supported by an operating system and marketing.
The Franchisee is the person or group paying the franchisor for the right to use the trademark and the benefits of the operating system and marketing.
Seems simple enough. But it’s this structure that gives franchise marketing its unique complexities. For your agency, the challenge is that you can’t enter these marketing relationships equipped solely with your knowledge of corporate or local search marketing.
You need to deeply understand the setup to avoid bewilderment over why implementation bogs down with franchise clients and why players lose track of their roles, or even overwrite one another’s efforts.
In this post, we’ll give you some quick and useful coaching on the franchise model, but if your agency just got a phone call from Orangetheory or Smoothie King, you can get the bigger playbook right away.
Imagine a post-game locker room scene. On the field, all players seemed united by the goal of winning. But now, at different press conferences, the owner is saying the coach failed to meet standards, the coach is saying the owner should keep his opinions to himself, and several of the star players are saying they didn’t get the ball enough.
Franchises can be just like that when there’s confusion over roles and goals. Read on to get a peek into the playbook we’ve prepared to help the team as a whole work better together:
Franchise marketing is a unique kind of activity. It does share a lot of qualities with corporate marketing (on the awareness side) and with SMB marketing (on the local side) but as we noted earlier, it’s sort of a joint custody arrangement that — like all custody arrangements — can get contentious at times.
Everyone wants the best for the brand, but everyone’s “best” is very much a matter of their own perspective and goals. Typically in this arrangement, there are at least two stakeholders, though sometimes there are more. The stakeholders and their goals tend to play out as follows:
Corporate Franchisor goals
Creating a strong brand to license more franchisors.
Controlling that brand so it isn’t negatively impacted.
Supporting franchisees with strong branding and resources so they succeed.
Master Franchisor goals
Working with corporate to protect the brand.
Licensing more local franchisors.
Supporting franchisees with resources so they succeed.
Regional or Area Franchisee goals
Driving customer traffic and revenue at individual locations.
Growing their portfolio of locations.
Supporting location managers with resources so they succeed.
Owner/Operator Franchisee goals
Increasing location(s) foot traffic.
Increasing location(s) revenue.
Building customer loyalty at the location(s).
In what ways is franchise marketing different from corporate or standard SMB marketing? There are some unique challenges that franchisors and franchisees face which are worth unpacking. Some of them are:
Conflicting goals between franchisor/franchisee
Faster turnover of locations and addresses
Different opening hours, menus and promotions from location to location
Unique local sales and marketing opportunities and challenges
Competitors on both the brand side but also among local SMBs
Lack of clearly defined marketing roles causing work to be overwritten, duplicated, or even neglected
Getting your agency’s head in the game
Your agency can be a better coach to franchises by having a playbook that respects how they differ from corporate or SMB clients at the very outset. But differences don’t have to equal weaknesses. Are you ready to draft a game plan that draws from the strengths of both franchisors and franchisees?
Planet Fitness, Great Clips, Ace Hardware… you can imagine the sense of achievement the leadership of these famous franchises must enjoy in making it to the top of lists like Entrepreneur’s 500. Behind the scenes of success, all competitive franchisors and franchisees have had to manage a major shift — one that centers on customers and their radically altered consumer journeys.
Research online, buy offline. Always-on laptops and constant companion smartphones are where fingers do the walking now, before feet cross the franchise threshold. Statistics tell the story of a public that searches online prior to the 90% of purchases they still make in physical stores.
And while opportunity abounds, “being there” for the customers wherever they are in their journey has presented unique challenges for franchises. Who manages which stage of the journey? Franchisor or franchisee? Getting it right means meeting new shopping habits head-on, and re-establishing clear sight-lines and guidelines for all contributors to the franchise’s ultimate success.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be publishing a series of articles dedicated to franchises. Want all the info now? Download The Practical Guide to Franchise Marketing:
Traditionally, online marketing wasn’t something that franchisees had to think much about. And that was sort of a good thing because everyone knew their lane.
Franchisors handled national or regional marketing through broadcast, print, and other media. They also handled digital marketing — which, within recent recall, consisted mainly of a website, social media accounts, and paid search.
Franchisees managed the local beat with coupons, flyers, direct mail, and other community and word-of-mouth marketing efforts.
Then people started shopping differently and traditional lanes began merging. Customers started using online directories to get information. They started using online listings for discovering local businesses “near me” on a map. They started reading online reviews to make choices. They started browsing online inventories or menus in advance. They started using cell phones to make reservations, click to call you, or to get a digital voice assistant like Siri or Alexa to give them directions to the nearest and best local option.
Suddenly, what used to be a “worldwide” resource — the internet — began to be a local resource, too. And a really powerful one. People were finding, choosing, and building relationships online not just with the national brand, but with local shops, services and restaurants, often making choices in advance and showing up merely to purchase the products or services they want.
Stats State the Case
Consider how these statistics are impacting every franchise:
76% of people who search for something nearby on their smartphone visit a related business within a day, and 28% of those searches result in a purchase. – Google
88% of shoppers regularly or occasionally browse products online before purchasing them in a store. – Adweek
45% of brick-and-mortar sales in 2018 started with an online review — a 15% year-over-year increase from 2017. – Bazaarvoice
According to Google, “near me” mobile searches that contain a variant of “can I buy” or “to buy” have grown over 500% in the past two years, and we’ve seen a 900% growth in mobile search for “___near me today/tonight.” – Google
Search interest in ”open now” has increased 300% in the past two years. – Google
These are huge changes — and not ones the franchise model was entirely ready for.
There used to be a clear geographic split between a franchise’s corporate awareness marketing and franchisee local sales marketing that was easy to understand. But the above statistics tell new tales. Now there is an immediacy and urgency to the way customers search and shop that’s blurring old lines.
Ace is the place with the helpful hardware folks
Even a memorable jingle like this one goes nowhere unless the franchisor/franchisee partnership is solid. How do customers know a brand like Ace stands by its slogan when they see a national TV campaign like this one which strives to distinguish the franchise from understaffed big box home improvement stores?
Customers feel the nation-wide promise come true as soon as they walk into an Ace location:
Place located where the internet said it was? Check!
Abundance of staff? Check!
Online purchase ready for pickup? Check!
Trust earned? Check!
A brand promo only works when all sides are equally committed to making each location of the business visible, accessible, and trusted. This joint effort applies to every aspect of how the business is marketed. From leadership to door greeter, everyone has a role to play. It’s defining those roles that can make or break the brand in the new consumer environment.
We’ll be exploring the nuts and bolts of building ideal partnerships in future installments of this series. Up next is The Unique World of Franchise Marketing. Keep an eye out for it on the blog at the end of the month!
Don’t want to wait for the blog posts to come out? Download your copy now of our comprehensive look at unique franchise challenges and benefits:
In 2019, high-authority links remain highly correlated with rankings. However, acquiring great links is becoming increasingly difficult. Those of you who operate publications of any variety, especially those who enjoy high domain authority, have likely received several link building requests or offers like this each day:
“Please link to my suspect site that provides little or no value.”
“Please engage in my shady link exchange.”
“I can acquire 5 links of DA 50+ for $250 each.”
Or maybe slightly more effectively:
“This link is broken, perhaps you would like to link here instead.”
“You link to X resource, but my Y resource is actually better.”
This glut of SEOs who build links through these techniques above have been consistently eroding the efficacy of this style of little-to-no-value ad outreach link building. In the past, perhaps it was possible to convert 2% of outreach emails of this style to real links. Now, that number is more like 0.2 percent.
Link building outreach has become glorified email spam—increasingly ignored and decreasingly effective. And yet, high-authority links remain one of the single most important ranking factors.
So where do we go from here?
Let’s start with a few axioms.
The conclusion: Leveraging data journalism to tell newsworthy stories re-enables effective promotion of content via outreach/pitching. Doing so successfully results in the acquisition of high domain authority links that enjoy the potential for viral syndication. Overall data journalism and outreach represents one of the only remaining scaleable high-authority link building strategies.
How can I leverage data journalism techniques to earn coverage?
To answer this question, I conducted my own data journalism project about the state of data journalism-driven link building! (Meta, I know.)
The primary goal was to understand how major publications (the places worth pitching content) talk about data journalism findings from external sources. By understanding how data journalism is covered, we lay the groundwork for understanding what types of data journalism, themes, and strategies for outreach can be most effective for link building.
We pulled 8,400 articles containing the text “study finds.” This keyword was used as a heuristic for finding data-driven news stories created by outside sources (not done internally by the news publication themselves). We then supplemented these articles with additional data, including links built, social shares, and Google’s Machine Learning topic categorization.
The categories derived by Google’s classifier can have multiple tiers based on the keywords in the article titles, giving us four ways to show the results within each category: The main topic area (containing all relevant subcategories), just the first subcategory, just the second subcategory, and just the third subcategory.
Which outlets most frequently cover data-driven stories from external pitches?
Let’s begin by taking a look at which top-tier news outlets cover “study finds” (AKA, any project pitched by an outside source that ran a survey or study that had “findings”).
For companies conducting studies, they hope to win press coverage for, these top sites are prime targets, with editorial guidelines that clearly see outside pitches of study findings as attractive.
It’s not surprising to see science-based sites ranking at the top, as they’re inherently more likely to talk about studies than other publications. But sites like The Independent, Daily Mail, The Guardian, CNN, Washington Post, and NBC News all ranked highly as well, providing great insight into which established, trusted news sources are willing to publish external research.
Which topic areas do these publishers write about most?
Diving a little deeper, we can explore which topics are covered in these publications that are associated with these external studies, providing us insight into which verticals might be the best targets for this strategy.
There are many unique insights to be gleaned from the following charts depending on your niche/topical focus. This data can easily be used as a pitching guide, showing you which publishers are the most likely to pick up and cover your pitches for the findings of your study or survey.
Here is a view of the overall category and subcategory distribution for the top publishers.
As you can see, it’s…a lot. To get more actionable breakdowns, we can look at different views of the topical categories. The categories derived by Google’s classifier can have multiple tiers based on the keywords in the article titles, giving us several ways to show the results within each category.
You can explore the Tableau sheets to get into the nitty-gritty, but even with these views, a few more specialized publications, like InsideHigherEd.com and blogs.edweek.org, emerge.
Which topic areas drive the most links?
Press mentions are great, but syndication is where data journalism and content-based outreach strategy really shines. I also wanted to understand which topic areas drive link acquisition. As it turns out, some topics are significantly better at driving links than others.
Note that the color of the bar charts is associated with volume of sharing by topic—the darker the bar on the chart, the higher it was shared. With this additional sharing data, it’s plain to see that while links and social shares are highly correlated, there are some categories that are top link builders but do not perform as well on social and vice versa.
This next set of data visualizations again explore these topic areas in detail. In each batch, we see the median number of links built as an overall category aggregate and then by each category.
Which domains generate the most links when they pick up a data-driven story?
Another interesting question is which domains overall result in the largest number of links generated for “study finds” stories. Below is that ranking, colored by the median number of total shares for that domain.
Notice that while The Independent ranked supreme in the earlier graph about including the most “study finds” pieces, they don’t appear at all on this graph. Sites like The Guardian, CNN, The Washington Post, and NBC News, however, score highly on both, meaning they’re probably more likely to publish your research (relatively speaking, since all high-authority sites are tough to get coverage on), and if you’re successful, you’re probably more likely to get more syndicated links as a result.
Which topic areas are the most evergreen?
Now, let’s look at each category by BuzzSumo’s “evergreen score” to see what kind of content will get you the most bang for your buck.
The evergreen score was developed by BuzzSumo to measure the number of backlinks and social shares an article receives more than a month after it’s published.
When you’re considering doing a study and you want it to have lasting power, brainstorm whether any of these topics tie to your product or service offering, because it appears their impact lingers for longer than a month:
What this all means
Link building through data-driven content marketing and PR is a predictable and scalable way to massively impact domain authority, page authority, and organic visibility.
1. Which publishers make sense to pitch to?
Do they often cover external studies?
Do they cover topics that I write about?
Does their coverage lead to a high volume of syndicated links?
2. Does my topic have lasting power?
To really make the most of your content and outreach strategy, you’ll need to incorporate these tips and more into your content development and pitching.
In previous articles on Moz I’ve covered:
These ideas and methodologies are at the heart of the work we do at Fractl and have been instrumental in helping us develop best practices for ideation, content creation, and successful outreach to press. Pulling on each of these levers (and many others), testing, and accumulating data that can then be used to refine processes is what begins to make a real impact on success rates and allows you to break through the noise.
If you want to discuss the major takeaways for your industry, feel free to email me at [email protected].
Did anything surprise you in the data? Share your thoughts below!