Ways to Boost Your B2B Marketing Content Readership

How to Use Customer Testimonials in B2B Marketing

Forestville: March 7, 2019


A father bear, mother bear, and their baby bear arrived home yesterday afternoon to find that a young girl had broken into their home and was sleeping in the baby bear’s bed. Investigators said the girl, whose name they disclosed is Goldilocks, was last seen running from the site of the break-in after jumping out a bedroom window after having been awakened by the bears. Prior to falling asleep, Goldilocks ate all of the baby bear’s porridge and broke his chair, authorities alleged.

An elective course Allen took in college was an introduction to news journalism. Among the assignments in courses like this is to write a lead paragraph (the “lead” or “lede”) using a well-known children’s tale as the news item. Lead paragraphs are written to provide the reader a preview of the story to come, summarizing it with only basic facts—the “who, what, when, and where.” The objective of the lead is to prompt readers to continue on to get the details.

We led this article with that thought to make the point that if you want your business-to-business (B2B) marketing content to gain readership, the first thing you must do is think like a news journalist.


In this age of information overload, it’s critical to be able to quickly grab your reader’s attention with the key points you want them to take away. That way, even if they read only the first few lines of your marketing message, they’ll immediately grasp the most critical things you want to communicate. And, hopefully, if you’ve done a good job setting the stage, they’ll continue reading to pick up more of the specifics in your marketing content.

Content marketing is used by over 91% of B2B marketers; but only 37% of marketing organizations have a documented content marketing strategy and only 20% describe their approach to content marketing as “very successful,” according to a survey by MarketingProfs and Content Marketing Institute.

That’s because, as the survey noted, over 83% of those on the receiving end of online marketing messages reported being overwhelmed by both the amount and the length of communications. They want the content shorter, to the point, and prescriptive—as in “just give me a solution.”

Solution in mind, and aside from thinking like a news journalist as you take on marketing content initiatives, what are four other surefire ways to optimize your efforts?

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How to Use Customer Testimonials in B2B Marketing

How to Use Customer Testimonials in B2B Marketing

Before buying a book or a pair of headphones from Amazon, it’s highly likely you’d read a few reviews to ensure you’re making the right decision. For consumers, reviews are vital in helping make purchasing decisions. But the same is also true for organizations that buy a product or service from other businesses.

In the case of business-to-business (B2B) marketing, testimonials can carry a lot of weight in highly competitive markets and must be carefully planned and executed. Before choosing which company to purchase from, B2B buyers spend a long time considering their budgets, product effectiveness, vendor professionalism—and the testimonials of peers.

B2B companies know how to talk up their products or services, emphasizing how efficient and cost-effective they are. But customers don’t want marketing spiel; they want balanced and unbiased feedback from people they can relate to. They also want concrete figures and results.

Testimonials build trust between the company and its users, and they help customers overcome any skepticism they might have. They also allow for comparison among similar products, which might help you get the edge over your competitors.


A good testimonial outlines key benefits, makes comparisons with other products, and backs up the claims you’ve made about your product or service. That’s why many businesses choose to include a form of testimonial in their marketing. But some are more effective than others.

Research

Research backs up the claim that customer testimonials are effective. Testimonials beat all other types of content marketing for their effectiveness, WebDAM found:

Some 78% of people say they trust reviews as much as recommendations from acquaintances, and it’s interesting to note that the inclusion of both positive and negative reviews is perceived as more trustworthy than just positive reviews.

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6 marketing trends set to take off in 2019

6 marketing trends set to take off in 2019

The traditional marketing funnel has changed.

No longer are marketers focused solely on moving a customer through the funnel. Now, marketers are creating experiences that promote brand affinity — and even advocacy.

The funnel is becoming more of an ongoing cycle that prioritizes continuous engagement over transactional relationships. This increased focus on nurturing, especially post-sale, makes customers more likely to stay with you or buy again — and more likely to give recommendations to friends and colleagues.

This year’s marketing trends are all about creating captivating digital experiences.

The growing momentum of social e-commerce, inclusive marketing, or brand activism means that marketers are connecting authentically with their customers.

Marketers like Inc. contributor and inclusive marketing expert, Sonia Thompson; social media marketing experts, Eva Taylor of Hootsuite and Taylor Loren of Later; Or, Andy Crestodina, the authority on content marketing and original research. All of whom we spoke to for this round-up article.

In 2019, say goodbye to the traditional marketing funnel, and welcome this year’s focus on the nurturing the customer relationship. These six marketing trends are set to take off this year:

The acceleration of social e-commerce

Look to the successful rise of Glossier, for proof of the rising importance of social e-commerce.

Quite simply, social e-commerce is the ability to purchase a product within a third party social media experience: think Shop the Look Pins from Pinterest to newer features such as shoppable Instagram Stories,” explains Eva Taylor, Senior Manager Global Social Marketing at HootSuite.

What started as the beauty blog, Into the Gloss, Glossier has disrupted the beauty industry by fostering community where shoppers like to congregate: Instagram.

Traditionally, beauty brands opened up shop on the bottom floor of department stores. Customers would waft through the perfume to discover new products within the mainstays of beauty, in this try-before-you-buy model.

WiderFunnel Marketing Trends Social E-commerce Glossier
People love Glossier – just look at their engagement on a post about lipsticks.

Powered by the influencer and social proof native to the platform, Glossier has pioneered a new buy-before-you-try purchasing model in the beauty industry by “outsourcing” engagement to third party platforms, according to founder Emily Weiss in this Recode article.

And they’re not the only ones seeing success.

With Instagram shopping, you can turn your feed into a visual storefront, allowing your followers to make direct purchases without having to leave Instagram.

Taylor Loren

Head of Marketing at Later

The potency of the Instagram platform is cause for the projected 3x traffic increase over 2019, according to Salesforce.

WiderFunnel Marketing Trends Social Ecommerce Instagram Shopping
Instagram and other visual social media make new product discovery easy. S-commerce makes buying those products easier.

For Instagram specifically, we’re really excited about shopping in Instagram Stories through product stickers which are already clicked by 90 million people daily,” explains Taylor Loren.

According to Instagram, 400 million people watch Instagram Stories every day, and one-third of the most viewed stories are from businesses. That’s a huge potential audience, and the format is so engaging.

Visual platforms like Pinterest, Snapchat and Instagram make the discovery of new products easier.

And brands are trying to close the gap between discovery and purchase with social e-commerce.

Instead of hyping up customers to go through to your website funnel, brands are focused on developing an engaged community on these platforms.

Social media excels as a place for product discovery, especially as new features advance social media’s ability to offer an immersive experience for potential consumers.

Video is a particularly effective format that can be integrated into different stages of the buyer journey, while the data collected by the social networks enables brands to create personalized experiences through paid social.

Eva Taylor

Senior Manager Global Social Marketing at Hootsuite

And rumor has it that the platform is working on its own stand-alone e-commerce app.

But e-commerce functionality is changing the way brands engage with consumers on all social touchpoints.

In late 2018, Tommy Hilfiger launched SideFlix, a Facebook messenger app that combines social interactions with shoppable posts.

WiderFunnel Marketing Trends Social E-commerce Tommy Hilfiger SideFlix
Four screens unlocks this influencer story on Facebook Messenger

How SideFlix works: shoppers gain access to exclusive content when they need to collaborate with their social networks in real life. A combination of mobile screens unlocks the ability to view branded video stories.

For example, when you have two screens side-by-side, influencers Jia-Ye Wu and Mia Kong travel through Shanghai and give users a peek at the 2018 TommyNow Icons runway.

With three screens, you get visual access to the TommyXLewis VIP launch party in New York with influencers Tessa Barton and Cole Herrmann.

And when you tap on any of the items in the videos, you can save the item to a collection and get linked to the shopping details on Tommy.com.

These innovative use of social platforms create a buzz around online shopping.

In 2019, experiment with what platforms and media work best for your brand, your product offering and your community of customers.

Be an early adopter…but be strategic.

Get the interactive Strategic Planning Worksheet to help you plan how and when to implement the marketing trends you’ve been reading about in this post, and elsewhere.

Searching in our visual culture

By now people have the muscle memory for taking pictures of all sorts of things — not just sunsets and selfies but the parking lot where you parked, business cards, books to read. That’s a massive behavior shift.

Aparna Chennapragada

Vice President of Product for AR, VR, and vision-based products at Google

Our culture is largely visual. Our phones allow us to document and notate our daily lives in minute detail. We take a picture to remember. We record a video to recall.

It’s shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that on the flip side of the social e-commerce trend is the proliferation of visual search.

When you submit an image as the search criteria, AI technology analyzes its content and context to determine related search results.

For example, Wayfair, a furniture and housewares company, implemented visual search into its e-commerce site. A shopper can take a picture of a chair they see out-and-about and upload it to gain similar items.

WiderFunnel Marketing Trends Visual Search
Wayfair uses AI technology to make shopping easy. Shoppers can get inspired by things they see, photograph it, and find similar items on the Wayfair site.

According to Gartner, brands that adopt visual and voice search in these early days can see their digital commerce revenue grow by 30% by 2021.

But the rise of visual search is part of a larger trend of “sensory search”. Voice search is still important in 2019.

The rise of UX Writing

In last year’s marketing trends round-up, I talked about conversational marketing. This year, the dialogue with your customers continues with the rise of UX writing.

UX writing is not a trend but a complete methodology that is on the rise,” explains Yuval Keshtcher, who founded his UX Writing community two years ago to fill a gap for experienced UX writers.

We need experienced creators that can tell the story of our digital products while creating meaningful conversations with our users.

UX writing can be distinguished from copywriting by its lack of focus on selling; instead, the UX writer seeks to guide a user through a website, app or product in a clear and delightful way.

WiderFunnel Marketing Trends UX Writing
Eat This Much is an app that creates creates personalized meal plans, so instead of saying “Loading…” the writer wrote this playful microcopy.

A digital product must sound and feel like there is a human behind that digital screen.

The largest companies in the world such as Google, Amazon, and Dropbox use a UX writer to craft that kind of experiences that makes user fall in love with their products and services which automatically increase the sales conversion and retention rate for the company.

Buttons, menu labels, error messages, and other microcopy turn a design into a customer experience.

In fact, UX writing can often solve design problems through the ability to clear identify and motivate the user to complete particular actions in the experience.

Whereas a few years ago, UX designers might slot in some Lorem Ipsum to hold space before the copywriters filled the blanks; Nowadays, more and more companies are employing UX writers.

These writers understand technology, psychology, and user research to collaboratively build the user experience with designers, product managers, developers, etc.

WiderFunnel Marketing Trends UX Writing
Do you understand what is intended by this page and form? Yuval Keshtcher provided this design-first example in his UX Writing Weekly newsletter to make a case for content-driven experiences.

In 2019, expect to craft messages that do more than sell; write to guide, write to motivate, write to delight.

UX writing will become common parlance in the marketing world, with innovators maximizing the experience beyond just the jobs to be done.

Credible content marketing after #FakeNews

According to 69% of respondents to Edelman’s 2018 Trust Barometer Global Report, the number one job of CEOs is to build trust in the company.

Building trust is also crucial for content marketers.

We’ve seen the rise of long-form content over the past few years; not only does content over 2,000 words see higher SEO rankings, but long-form content is also more likely to be shared on readers’ social media.

But credibility in the era of #FakeNews means that more content marketers will be taking a journalistic approach.

At the very least, marketers will be citing academic research and other thought leaders.

At most, content marketers will be spearheading original research themselves.

A good article cites original research. A great article IS original research. Over and over throughout 2018, I saw huge successes for marketers who published original research and made themselves the primary source for new information,” explains Andy Crestodina, author of “Content Chemistry.”

It’s so much harder, that most marketers don’t do it. It takes time to create a credible study. It requires data gathering, outreach, analysis and visuals. It’s inevitably long-form content. But look at the correlation between long-form content and success.

What’s more, marketers build credibility with their audiences through transparent research methodologies and data-backed messaging.

Brand activism in a polarized world

In 2016, Colin Kaepernick became a household name when kneeled through the national anthem before his 49ers games in protest of several police shootings of unarmed African-American men.

The protest incited a heated debate. Some agreed with Kaepernick’s stance; others saw it as insulting. Once a free agent, Kaepernick lingered, unsigned by a team because of the fear of repercussion.

Though he remained on Nike’s roster of sponsored athletes, they didn’t know how to promote him at first.

And many in their boardrooms didn’t want to.

But to cut him from his contract could have caused media and consumer backlash.

In the end, Nike just did it.

Nike Colin Kaepernick Campaign Brand Activism
Nike featured Colin Kaepernick in their 30th anniversary of the “Just Do It” campaign.

The campaign was provocative and unapologetic. A bold move best suited for Nike’s 30th anniversary of the “Just Do It” campaign.

And it ignited the debate further — some burned their Nike products live on social media. Others praised the brand for its support one of the most inspirational athletes of this generation.

But what would seem like a gamble for Nike actually turned into a winning move for its core consumers: two-thirds of which are under the age of 35 and a consumer based that is ethnically diverse, reports Bloomberg.

But Nike wasn’t the only brand that took a stand in 2018.

Tech Giants like Apple, Google and IBM rallied against Trump’s immigration policy. And Dick’s Sporting Goods banned assault weapons after the Parkland school shooting.

WiderFunnel Marketing Trends Brand Activism IBM
IBM rallied against Trump’s immigration policy, even making a social media statement on the issue.

In 2019, more brands will be getting off the fence when it comes to controversy.

According to Edelman’s Earned Brand study, nearly two-thirds of the survey respondents choose, switch to or boycott a brand based on its stand on social issues.

Perhaps more interesting to note is that “belief-driven” buying is up from 51 percent in 2017, alluding to the rising power of brand activism.

In fact, more than 50% of Gen Z-ers agreed that a brand showing dedication to social impact is an important factor when they make purchases, according to a survey by MNI Targeted Media Inc.

Whether that is an organization’s diversity and inclusion initiative or their charitable contributions, socially conscious brands are meaningful to this consumer category.

And so, marketers need to know where the organization stands on social issues. Having an opinion will trickle down through different marketing tactics: from your “voice” on social media to your PR key messages.

But taking a stand on social issues needs to come off as authentic — not solely a marketing ploy.

Political activism is an issue-by-issue, moment-by-moment decision that is not only conscience-led, but brand-aligned. The tone that brands adopt must be true to the brand and make sense to consumers, especially when key messages come from CEOs themselves.

Christine Moorman and Holly Larson

Marketers and business leaders should look to their organizational values to dictate which social issues mean the most to the brand — and their consumers.

Belonging and Inclusive marketing

Diversity and inclusion are becoming top business priorities in a global market. In recent years, we’ve seen marketing become more diverse, more body positive, more culturally sensitive.

Business is increasingly becoming more global, and as the US and other countries grow more diverse – we all have to cater to niche audiences that continue to grow, if we want to remain relevant. Those niche audiences have the power to move and influence entire markets.

Sonia Thompson

The Customer Magnet Show podcast host and Inc. columnist

For one, Google’s Mobile-First Index recognizes that many communities don’t have high-speed internet access that many of us take for granted.

But people can access the internet from a cheap phone with a 3G connection. So, you need to deliver your experience as fast as a broadband connection and be optimized for mobile in a way that includes these marginalized markets in your experience.

Because that’s the thing – when marketers talk about understanding their customers, you can’t rely on one or two personas without marginalizing some of your customers.

And you do have to understand your customer to create marketing campaigns that will resonate.

In the article, 4 lessons we’ve learned, sometimes the hard way, about inclusive marketing“, Lorraine Twohill, Chief Marketer at Google, described the customer research that they underwent to make sure their Chromebook advertising resonated with the Hispanic community.

And she also described how Google worked with pride organizations to help tell the stories of the LGTBQ community.

Inclusive marketing is all about focusing your efforts to include as many people as possible with the products, services, and experiences you deliver – in particular, the people who don’t fit cleanly into what is considered mainstream,” explains Sonia Thompson.

In 2019, marketers will need to understand the customers they include and the customers they potentially exclude with their campaigns.

When designing digital experiences be sure to think about your ideal customer avatar – and evaluate whether or not that vision of a person allows you to be inclusive of others who don’t fit the traditional mold, or if it does more to exclude others,” Sonia advises.

For instance, that may mean utilizing photography that resonates with people of color, accommodating people who have food allergies or dietary restrictions or even making allowances for folks whose first language isn’t the one your business primarily does business in.

To reach niche audiences, marketers will need to ensure that they are personalizing their efforts.

And they will need to know that those efforts will resonate by basing their decisions on customer research and thick data.

Being intentional about getting to know on a broad scale about all the different types of customers who have the problem your business solves, will help you craft a customer profile that is more representative of the customers you want to serve.

With the advancements in technology and customer research like our MotivationLab, there’s no excuse for leaving your niche audiences neglected.

Inclusive marketing is a trend that you can’t miss.

De-siloing the customer experience

Read any trends round-up post for marketers and you will see the usual listing of buzzwords: Augmented and virtual reality. Personalization. Artificial Intelligence.

Of course, these are emerging trends and technologies worthy of your attention.

But, really, these trends reflect the desire to captivate the customer’s attention with delightful digital experiences.

Think of a website that personalizes recommendations based on your past purchases and sizing. Or, an app that allows you to envision what new furniture looks like in your apartment.

It doesn’t matter if it’s AR or AI-driven, these trends and technologies are secondary to the customer experience.

But to achieve this level of delight, marketers need to work cross-functionally with other teams.

Marketers need to work with product managers, technologists, data analysts, and developers. They need to work with customer service specialists and the sales team.

Together, they create the experience of the customer journey.

Corporate silos are customer experience killers because customers don’t care about how your company is organized. They simply see one fluid experience — their own.

At the very least, marketers need to consider what the customer was doing before the experience in focus and what they would be doing immediately after.

In 2019, Marketers need to work beyond their team or department; they need to de-silo the customer experience to see success.

Experimentation is at the heart of every marketing strategy.

Being on the cusp of new trends is exciting, but it doesn’t necessarily result in a winning marketing strategy.

It can be hard to know when the timing is right for your business.

You need to know what your customers will respond to at what touchpoint or trigger action. You need to understand the customer’s perspective of your experience to know what they need and desire.

That’s why even the most experienced marketers now test and learn their way to see which new trends and technologies will work.

Experimentation allows you to minimize your investment in new marketing trends while allowing you to constantly adapt your marketing strategy to customer preferences and behaviors.

In 2019, be an early adopter, an innovator — experiment.

What marketing trends for 2019 did I miss? Let us know in the comments!

Author

Lindsay Kwan

Marketing Communications Specialist

Benchmark your experimentation maturity with our new 7-minute maturity assessment and get proven strategies to develop an insight-driving growth machine.

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How to Create Marketing Lead Magnets

How to Create Marketing Lead Magnets

Ingredients: 125g butter, ¾ cup caster sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla essence, 1 egg, 2 bananas (ripe & mashed), 1 ½ cups self-raising flour, and a ¼ cup of milk.

That’s what you need to make a banana cake.

You’ve also got to follow the recipe. But without the ingredients, anything else is irrelevant: No matter what you do, it just won’t be a banana cake.

Similarly, you need the right ingredients to make a lead magnet tasty enough for your prospects to eat up and come back for more.


The Lowdown on the Lead Magnet

Before we go on, let’s spell out what a lead magnet is: A lead magnet is an offer, incentive, or product intended to give your visitor value in return for their personal information (usually an email address or phone number).

A lead magnet is your metaphorical apple pie on a metaphorical window sill, metaphorical scent wafting out into the world and inviting people to take a closer look.

And if that apple pie turns out to be a tasty treat, then…

  • More and more of your “ideal customers” find you
  • More of those prospects will sign up or start a relationship, meaning more leads, deeper engagement (and ultimately, more sales)
  • Better brand awareness for your business as more people get to know you
  • A bigger and better reputation in the industry
  • The potential to “go viral,” with your lead magnet drawing a flood of leads

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Building the essential marketing technology stack to fuel your experimentation program

Building the essential marketing technology stack to fuel your experimentation program

An experimenter’s guide to marketing technology

Most business leaders today are familiar with Scott Brinker’s famous Marketing Technology Landscape supergraphic:

Widerfunnel marketing tech stack supergraphic
Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic (2018)

In 2018, the graphic included 6,829 marketing technology solutions—almost double the number of solutions depicted in 2016. There are literally thousands of technology platforms at your fingertips. And each promises to solve every one of your business pain points.

But technology without purpose and strategy quickly becomes shelfware. A strategic approach to both sourcing and leveraging your marketing tools is essential.

Today’s post details the technology roadmap recommended by Widerfunnel’s Senior Experimentation Strategists. This roadmap highlights the “why” behind implementing certain technologies at certain moments in your organization’s experimentation journey. As well as how to get the most out of these tools by taking a strategic approach.

Note: We will not cover every type of marketing technology, but will focus on the tech stack that should be leveraged by a team that is conducting online experiments.

Strengthening the Technology pillar in your Experimentation Operating System

But first, let’s zoom out.

Your experimentation technology stack is just one piece of your Experimentation Operating System™ (EOS). There are four other pillars, which include: Process, Accountability, Culture, and Expertise.

You must view your tools within the context of the entire system:

  • How do they support you in documenting, unifying, disseminating, and automating your experimentation processes?
  • How do they support you to hold your experimentation program accountable—to properly track and report on program success?
  • How do they support you in collaborating with the organization at-large? In promoting visibility and transparency around experimentation to create a culture of experimentation?
  • How do they support your team of experts in terms of usability, productivity, training, and customer support?
  • How do they integrate and work with your existing technology stack?

As your experimentation program matures, you will likely experience constraints across the different pillars. Technology will not always be your most important constraint. In fact, we speak to many organizations with extremely sophisticated marketing technology stacks that are floundering in areas like process and culture.

Widerfunnel experimentation maturity pillars
WiderFunnel’s pillars of experimentation maturity.

Your experimentation program will only reach its growth-driving potential if it is strong across all pillars.

But today—we are talking technology. If this is your organization’s primary focus or suspected weak spot, you are reading the right blog post.

Technology in the Initiating Phase: Analytics & an experimentation platform

Organizations in the Initiating Phase of experimentation maturity are just getting started. In this stage, an Experimentation Champion is likely working to implement the appropriate technologies and get initial wins to prove the value of an experimentation program.

If your organization is just getting started with experimentation, your primary focuses should be:

  1. Ensuring you have a solid analytics foundation, and
  2. Identifying and selecting the experimentation platform for your needs

Analytics and quantitative research

Clean data for quantitative research is an essential starting point for any experimentation program.

Analytics data will inform the initial story of your customer journey; it will enable you to prioritize test areas and gain insight into your customers’ goals and intentions. We group these into two buckets: Primary analytics and supplementary analytics providers.

Primary Analytics: There are really two key players that provide primary analytics reporting for most organizations: Google Analytics and Adobe Analytics. Together, these two have a lock on around 75% of the market. Google dominates for websites of all sizes, however Adobe can’t be discounted, particularly as a solution amongst high-traffic Enterprises.

Another company to keep on your radar is Heap Analytics. Heap has emerged as a powerful solution known for its ease of implementation and ability to auto-tag all site activity. For companies with limited IT resources, this single-line of javascript implementation is an attractive option.

Supplementary Analytics: While Google and Adobe dominate as primary analytics solutions, there are many emerging technologies you can use to supplement the data your primary tool is collecting. These tools provide advanced solutions for data visualization, marketer-friendly tagging, and prescriptive analytics.

These solutions may not be worth the expense for smaller organizations in early stages of experimentation maturity. But when you start asking very complex questions and dealing with larger data-sets, your primary data analytics tool can become restrictive.

Companies that are looking to take their analytics game to the next level should look into:

With a solid analytics set-up, your team can start to uncover the low-hanging fruit within your digital experience and identify opportunities for testing. You will quickly find, however, that you need to implement an experimentation tool to increase the confidence you have in the changes you are making.

Experimentation Tool

The next piece of the puzzle is a platform to facilitate experimentation. These tools allow you to measure the statistically valid effects of any change you make by limiting the impact of time and audience variables.

When you rely on analytics alone, you are relying on a less than accurate “before and after” measurement system. Making key business decisions based on this type of system can often lead you down the wrong path.

An experimentation tool allows you to run experiences simultaneously to randomized samples of your audience, giving you data you can trust to make decisions.

Before choosing a tool, it is important to identify your program’s requirements and parameters. For instance:

  • What sort of targeting requirements does your website have?
  • Are you going to require server-side testing?
  • Does your development environment allow for third party Javascript?
  • Are you testing on the web or do you need to be able to test in a native application?
  • Do you need Single Page App (SPA) support?

The answers to these questions in combination with your budget should help you select the right tool for your needs.

In the North American market, there are four major players in the experimentation space and many niche options. Each has unique strengths and features to offer depending on the needs of your company.

Optimizely

Optimizely is the market leader by market-share and is considered a thought leader in the experimentation space. They lead the way with their Stats Engine, broad integrations, and expansive product suite; they are considered a one-stop solution for organizations in any phase of experimentation maturity.

Optimizely’s experimentation-first perspective means they are usually first to market with the most innovative feature developments and advancements in the industry, keeping their customer base ahead of the competition. If you are an Enterprise organization, this is the first tool to evaluate. These features do come with a higher price tag though, and Optimizely may be out of range for smaller organizations that are just getting started.

Adobe Target

Also servicing enterprise companies, Adobe Target provides a testing solution to those that are heavily leveraging the Adobe technology stack. Like Optimizely, Target offers solutions to most of the key requirements any company may have. Those with Adobe Analytics and other Adobe products may find additional value due to Adobe’s cross-product integration. However, Target isn’t the most user friendly tool. And if you aren’t a trained data analyst or statistician, its statistical model can leave room for error. If you don’t already leverage the Adobe suite, you will likely not get the full value of Adobe Target.

VWO

VWO is a great solution for smaller or mid-market companies. This tool has a much more friendly price-point and allows for all basic client-side testing functionality. They have a strong SmartStats Engine, and built-in variation heatmaps, which are a major bonus. VWO is a great option for organizations with a standard client-side website environment that are looking to prove the value of experimentation. However, companies with very specific technical needs may want to pass on VWO due to their lack of server-side or SPA technology.

Google Optimize

New to the game (sort-of), technology giant Google has also developed an experimentation tool. The obvious advantage of Google Optimize is its native Google Analytics (GA) integration, and its free entry-level price-point. That said, the free tool is rudimentary and lacking in most advanced features. It also limits users in the number of experiments and metrics that can be in the tool at once. Optimize can be a worthwhile solution for GA organizations that are just getting started with basic testing.

Google’s paid version, Optimize 360, unlocks additional experiments and audience criteria that allow for more advanced experimentation. But it is only as valuable as your GA integration. If you have a team of GA experts, then you can do some creative analysis. However, Optimize 360 is likely not worth it for more entry level programs.

Keep in mind, Google Optimize is a sleeping giant. If Google decides to pour resources into the development of this tool, it could quickly become the dominant player in the space.

Sentient AI

If your website is well-suited for multivariate testing (MVT)*, then Sentient AI offers a very interesting solution. Their tool uses Learning Evolutionary Artificial Intelligence (LEAF).

Loosely following the Theory of Evolution, Sentient lets you set thousands of variables and then watch as the tool “breeds” new combinations of variables and sends others to “extinction”. Eventually, it works its way towards the optimal combination. Due to its complexity, this solution is not for everyone. But in the right hands and on the right site you can cover a lot of ground quickly.

*Sites suited for MVT often have many fixed, modular components that are independent of one another.

Client-side versus server-side experimentation

One of the most important questions to consider at this stage is whether or not you need a client-side or server-side solution. Both have benefits.

Client-side execution means the code for your experiment variation will be injected through the browser. While this can be worse for performance, it enables the use of simple WYSIWYG interfaces that allow marketers to make changes without involving developers. One of the other major drawbacks is that you can only test on features that already exist in the DOM.

Client Side Experimentation Infographic
Here’s a diagram showing how client-side experimentation works.

Server-side execution means that the variation code will actually run on your server. The primary benefits of server-side are improved performance, security, and the ability to test features that do not exist in the control environment. Teams can leverage this to roll out new pages, entirely new functionality and prototypes, or make changes on pages with complex server calls.

WiderFunnel server-side experimentation
This diagram showcases server-side experimentation.

Server-side also greatly reduces the time needed to hardcode experiments because the code is already built in your native environment and follows all of your conventions. Server-side experimentation does require more initial investment to install the appropriate SDK but has efficiency and security benefits down the line.

If you are evaluating server and client-side technologies, consider the expertise of your engineers. Because server-side testing is done in your native environment, your team may find it more accessible. Client-side, on the other hand, relies heavily on Javascript and jQuery.

Technology in the Building Phase: A foundation for collaboration

Organizations in the Building Phase of experimentation maturity are bought in on the value of experimentation. In this stage, an Experimentation Champion or team is likely establishing process and building the infrastructure to scale the program.

An analytics tool and an experimentation tool make up the technology stack of a basic Experimentation Operating System. A single team can leverage both to plan, run, and analyze experiments. However, as you work to scale your experimentation program, collaboration becomes crucial. How can you enable experimentation across many teams and business units?

While an individual can test with little documentation, your organization will need solid project management and record keeping to scale up an effective program. In our experience, you will need a specific experiment collaboration system in place to move upward on the experimentation maturity scale.

There are a few things to consider when selecting collaboration tools:

  • How will people throughout the organization submit test ideas?
  • Where will experiment wireframe and design files be hosted?
  • Where will people communicate about an experiment?
  • How will the current status of each experiment be displayed?
  • Where and how will the results be stored?

You may not need to source technologies that address all of these questions at the outset, but you should consider tool(s) that will be able to grow alongside your program. Here are a few popular solutions we have seen:

JIRA: JIRA can really do it all. Although its interface can be confusing at times, JIRA is extremely flexible, allowing you to build a custom process that works for most situations. JIRA is a strong solution if your experimentation program sits within Engineering or Product, since it is likely JIRA is already the tool of choice of your engineers. If your program sits within less technical teams, such as Marketing, you will likely want to turn to something a little bit more user friendly.

Asana: Asana is a strong task management solution, and is the tool of choice for project management at WiderFunnel. It allows users to build consistent templates, facilitates task assignment and communication, and has useful scheduling features. The accessible interface makes this a tool that everyone in the organization can use with ease.

Trello: Kanban boards! Certain organizations love working in a kanban view, and Trello is the leader in this space. For companies that want a visual representation of their experimentation projects, Trello can be a great solution. Plus, it integrates well with JIRA as both come from the same parent company—Atlassian.

Optimizely Program Management: One of the key value propositions offered by Optimizely is the integration with their Program Management solution. Optimizely Program Management allows users to store experiment ideas, vote on priority, track insights, report on program success, and more. Although pricey, Optimizely Program Management is a glimpse into the future of experimentation and insight management.

Traditional Spreadsheets: For teams in the early days of the Building Phase looking to get organized, spreadsheets are definitely a viable option. While spreadsheets often fall short on image storage and communication, they are a free, easy solution for smaller teams tracking a simple program. Keep in mind that scale will likely be a problem here.

As you add more tools to your marketing technology stack to enable experimentation, you’ll want to make sure they integrate nicely. If you’re an Adobe user, your analytics and testing tool will already be integrated—you should ensure that anything else you layer on plays nicely with this suite.

As an alternative to suite solutions, several leaders in the experimentation tech space have formed the Digital Experience Stack (DXS). If you use Optimizely or another tool within this stack, you will want to evaluate other DXS solutions.

WiderFunnel The Digital Experience Stack DXS
The best-in-class tools are partnering to create The Digital Experience Stack (DXS). Source: Optimizely.

Achieving experimentation maturity with qualitative research

Organizations in the Collaborating Phase of experimentation maturity are expanding the experimentation program and collaborating across teams. Finalizing a communications plan and overall protocol for the program is a priority here.

For organizations in the Scaling Phase of maturity, experimentation is a core strategy. Standards are in place and success metrics are aligned with overall business goals, enabling testing at scale.

Game-changing experiment ideas come from customer research. Quantitative input from analytics will help you identify potential pain points within your digital experience, but it only tells a portion of the story. Sophisticated experimentation programs also work to layer in qualitative research—an equally important counterpart that will help you fill in gaps in your understanding of your customers.

The goal with qualitative research is to uncover the “why” behind the “what” that you have observed with your quantitative tool.

Ideally, your experimentation team will have all of the following qualitative tools at their disposal:

  • Scrollmaps
  • Clickmaps
  • Movemaps
  • User polls
  • Surveys
  • User session recording
  • Interviews

User Engagement Tools

Many organizations start with user engagement tools. These tools—including scrollmap, clickmap, heatmap, and user session recording features—help you visualize the visitor experience. They are useful because they are passive (requiring no additional action from your visitor) and are often low cost and easy to use.

When analyzing data from these tools, you’ll want to consider:

  • What % of your visitors is seeing specific important content?
  • What % of your visitors is scrolling past the fold?
  • Is there a particularly steep drop off after seeing a specific piece of content?
  • When comparing multiple calls-to-action, which are more commonly clicked?
  • What valuable information might your visitors be missing?
  • Where should you run your next test? (You may not want to test an element that few users are seeing)

Polls & Surveys

Polls and surveys take user research a step further by actually addressing specific questions to your audience. They give you the opportunity to ask questions while your user is in the shopping mindset and is evaluating your product. These require some action from users, but can often uncover much deeper insights (such as pain points within the customer journey you may have overlooked).

Exercise discretion with polls and surveys. Although they can provide rich customer feedback, they can also distract from your primary conversion goal.

Recommended tools to evaluate include:

Advanced experimentation & personalization: Data and customer management technologies

We hear shouts of “hyper-personalization” constantly—a one-to-one customer experience is the pinnacle for many organizations today. Of course, this relies on the existence of underlying data to define what makes an experience “personal”. Most organizations do not have the proper technology in place to enable this.

If your business has been struggling to do effective personalization, you should 1) interrogate your overall personalization strategy, and 2) look closely at how you are managing your customer data.

The proper use of a robust customer data platform (CDP) is a key component that differentiates mature experimentation programs from the immature. These platforms open up the world of audience management, boosting your ability to identify and target high value audience segments and plan test strategies around these groups.

Customer Data Platforms (CDP)

The CDP Institute defines a Customer Data Platform as “packaged software that creates a persistent, unified customer database that is accessible to other systems.”

A major benefit of a CDP is the ability to deliver a more effective customer experience and more impactful marketing messaging. (Which is really the goal with personalization). Your customers want a consistent experience across all of the channels and devices they’re using. They don’t want to see an ad for something they have already purchased. A CDP allows you to gain a complete view of your customer and deploy a consistent experience across touchpoints.

It is important to note, however, that a CDP is only as useful as it is comprehensive and actionable. This means that the number of data sources available to your CDP, as well as the number of execution integrations are both critical.

If you aren’t collecting data from multiple sources—website, mobile app, customer service system, in-store behavior, beacons, etc.—you may not be ready for a CDP. As well, if you can’t activate this data across multiple touchpoints—website, in-store, customer service interactions, etc.—you will not unlock the full potential of a CDP to provide a truly unified customer experience.

A CDP is not a personalization tool. However, it provides the data that will allow you to get the most use out of your personalization and experimentation tool.

If yours is a mature program and you are looking to enhance your personalization efforts or improve your overall data management efforts, Tealium’s Universal Data Hub is a great choice. Evergage is also a strong solution, combining a CDP with real-time personalization capabilities. If you already have a data platform in place, Evergage also functions as a powerful standalone personalization platform.

If you are looking for other tactical personalization solutions, you should also evaluate Optimizely Personalization and Dynamic Yield.

The business world has come a long way from the Mad Men era of focus groups and hunches. Today, technology enables experimentation at scale. It allows organizations to test one experience against another, achieving a statistically confident result. Which greatly reduces risk in decision-making.

However, it is vital that you define your experimentation strategy and ultimate objectives before sourcing your technology stack. Choose tools that fit these objectives, as well as your organization’s culture and the skill levels on your teams.

A final note: Before sourcing more tools, make sure you have a clear idea of what your program constraints really are. You can install every tool on the market, but that doesn’t mean you will have an effective experimentation program. First, you need a map of how you plan to get your program from A to B; technology is simply what you will use to pave the roads along the way.

What tools make up your marketing stack for experimentation? How do these tools support your overall experimentation efforts? Are your favorite tools on this list or did we miss them? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!

Author

Michael St Laurent

Director of Experimentation Strategy & Product Development Lead

Contributors

Natasha Wahid

Marketing Manager

Benchmark your experimentation maturity with our new 7-minute maturity assessment and get proven strategies to develop an insight-driving growth machine.

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Marketing Technology Awards 2019 – Search Engine Watch Search Engine Watch

marketing technology awards 2019

marketing technology awards 2019

We’ve been working together with our sister site, ClickZ, to honor the best and brightest marketing technology companies today (which includes some SEO-related tools). 

These Marketing Technology Awards are voted on 50/50 by the community and by a panel of judges. The ceremony will be hosted by Scott Brinker, and will take place on the night of March 21 in Tribeca, New York.

We’ve been raising quite a bit more hubbub about it on ClickZ, which more directly covers all marketing technology.

But since our SEW name is on there too, we wanted to make sure everyone here was in the loop as well. (You’ve probably seen it in the newsletters!)

How do the Marketing Technology Awards work?

You can read full detail about the Awards on the official website here, and can see answers to common questions here.

Categories span across various types of marketing technology, including CDPs, ABMs, call analytics, conversational bots, and a dozen more.

And of course, a handful of more SEO type things such as search tools, location-based marketing, mobile marketing, etc.

Categories also include “Use of Technologies” (best campaigns, best tech stack), as well as “People” (martech CEO and CMO).

The awards were free to enter, and anyone who has used any of the platforms (excluding employees) could vote on them, rating the tools on things like ease of use, integration, innovation, value for money, customer service, etc.

Finalists were determined based 50% by community votes, and 50% by these judges.

marketing technology awards panel of judges

Announcing the finalists

So for 2019, we want to thank everyone who has entered, nominated, voted, scored, and otherwise provided your valuable insights and experience.

We’d like to announce the list of finalists for this year, and offer a huge congratulations to everyone on this list.

We can’t wait to celebrate you and your great work at this event.

Here’s the full list:

Technologies

Best Account Based Marketing Tool

  • Demandbase
  • Jabmo
  • Uberflip

Best Analytics Platform

  • AT INTERNET
  • Interana
  • Pathmatics
  • TapClicks

Best Attribution Platform

  • Fospha
  • Marketing Evolution

Best Call Analytics Platform

  • DialogTech
  • Infinity
  • Invoca
  • Marchex

Best Chat/Conversationsal Bot/Tool

Best Content Marketing Tool

Best Conversion Rate Optimization Tool/Technology

  • CoolTool
  • Lucky Orange
  • WEVO

Best Customer Data Platform (CDP)

  • Adlucent
  • Arm Treasure Data
  • Fospha
  • Tealium

Best Customer Relationship Management Platform (CRM)

Best Data Privacy/GDPR Tool/Technology

  • Isatis CyberSoft
  • Sourcepoint

Best Data Visualization Tool

Best Demand Side Platform (DSP)

  • Amobee
  • SmartyAds
  • The Trade Desk

Best Digital Asset Management Platform (DAM)

Best Email Service Provider (ESP)

  • Epsilon
  • GetResponse
  • MessageGears
  • Upland Adestra

Best Influencer Marketing Platform

  • CreatorIQ
  • HYPR
  • IZEA Worldwide Inc.

Best Location Based Marketing Platform

  • Brandify
  • Chatmeter
  • Rio SEO
  • Yext

Best Marketing Automation Platform (MAP)

  • Maropost
  • Omnisend
  • Salesforce
  • Swrve

Best Mobile Marketing Platform

Best Paid Media/Bid Management Tool

  • Adlucent
  • Kenshoo (Kenshoo Search)
  • SmartyAds

Best Personalization Platform

  • Certona
  • Monetate
  • RichRelevance
  • Sitecore
  • Yieldify

Best Predictive Analytics Platform

  • Keen Decision Systems
  • SmartyAds

Best Sales Enablement Technology

  • Clari
  • Highspot
  • List Partners LLC
  • Seismic

Best SEO Tool

Best Social Media Marketing & Monitoring Company

  • Kenshoo (Kenshoo Social)
  • Rascasse

Overall – Marketing Technology Company of the Year

  • To be announced from the list of finalist at the awards dinner

Use of technologies

Best Customer Experience Campaign

  • Nestlé (Nestlé China)
  • Ogilvy (H&M & Ogilvy)
  • Best Data Enablement Campaign
  • Adobe (Adobe)
  • Catalyst (Catalyst & Tauck)
  • Idomoo (Fairmont Hotels & Resorts)
  • Marketing Evolution (Marketing Evolution)

Best Marketing Technology Stack

Best Personalization Campaign

  • Conversant (Swanson Health)
  • Location3 (Mountain Mike’s Pizza)
  • Selligent Marketing Cloud (OPEL NETHERLANDS)
  • Sitecore (Herschend Family Entertainment (Dollywood.com))
  • Velocity Worldwide (The Belfast Classic/Sport Changes Life)

Best Technology Combination

  • Akamai
  • Glisser
  • Merkle (Globe Life and Accident Insurance)
  • TVTY

Best Use of Marketing Technology

  • Adobe (Adobe & Adobe Advertising Cloud)
  • Ogilvy (H&M & Ogilvy)
  • SAP (SAP & MSIGHTS, Inc.)

People

Marketing Technology CEO Award

  • Conductor (Seth Besmertnik, CEO, Conductor)
  • Marketing Evolution (Rex Briggs, CEO, Marketing Evolution)
  • Sourcepoint (Ben Barokas, CEO, Sourcepoint)
  • Tapad (Sigvart Voss Eriksen, CEO, Tapad)
  • Trustpilot (Peter Holten Mühlmann, CEO, Trustpilot)

Marketing Technology CMO Award

  • Hootsuite (Penny Wilson, CMO, Hootsuite)
  • The Trade Desk (Susan Vobejda, CMO, The Trade Desk)
  • Yieldify (Hannah Nakano Stewart, CMO, Yeildify)

Again, a huge congratulations to all of these fantastic companies and people! For inquiries about the ceremony, please see more information and contact info here.

Related reading

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Benefits of Interactive Content for Marketing

Benefits of Interactive Content for Marketing

Passive content, including video, is out for 2019, claims this infographic by Kaon Interactive, a provider of interactive 3D product marketing and sales applications.

So what’s in? Immersive storytelling and interactive content, of course.

Most people have become expert at skimming and scrolling, Kaon argues, so you need to give them a reason to slow down and engage.

Compelling them to interact with your content is the best way to grab and hold their attention, according to the infographic.


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The new rules to win in search and content marketing Search Engine Watch

Conversation Mapping

The new rules to win in search and content marketing Search Engine Watch

Almost two-thirds of marketers now admit that digital content strategy powers their entire digital plan and yet the majority of those that use it struggle to create a mix of content ‘good enough’ to win.

That is the main finding from the second annual State of Content Marketing Survey, an annual temperature check of the UK’s top digital marketers.

In it we discover that not only is the game getting harder to win, but skill and resource shortages are holding many of you back from the results you demand.

And with an average of 23% of overall marketing budget now being attributed to content marketing it has to work.

Marketers also made clear that a very significant gap still exists between being able to create a strategy that resonates with audiences but also delivers measurable ROI. Only one in five of those that took part can confidently claim to know how to tie those two things together and more than half claim to struggle in terms of creating the type of content that will actually work.

You can dive deeper into the full survey, but this post is designed not just to share that top-level view of opinions, but instead go some way to offering a solution for those key challenges.

Overall the takeaways from the study tell us that there is a single, overriding question to fix the challenges of producing content that delivers ROI – ‘How do we create a content strategy that aligns with search growth, consistently?’

This post is designed to answer the ‘how’ element with an appreciation that designing such a digital content strategy has never been more complex and nuanced.

Where do we start?

With multiple touchpoints and a plethora of different journeys through to your product or service, there is no shame in feeling like you have no idea where to start.

And that’s a problem.

It’s an issue because of the emphasis, and rewards, now placed on the overall content experience.

It’s a challenge I’ve spent thousands of hours contemplating and the result of that thinking is captured in this post. A process focused not on content ideas, or keywords, but on the audience. I call it ‘Conversation Mapping’.

It’s a concept that borrows from the world of user experience and is designed to focus on the shift towards ‘conversational search’ and Google’s quest to solve the entire journey and follow the intent.

So, rather than thinking of the traditional ‘keyword research’ approach to designing a content strategy around what people are searching for we instead use the brainstorming process to develop and capture a number of theoretical conversations being had around our products and services.

That process can, and should, be backed by data of course.

Here’s how it works in detail…

Start with people. Always.

All marketing must start and end with people. It’s a statement I’ve made many times before in my Moz posts and it’s central to this strategic approach.

As a marketer, you’ll probably already be sick to death of posts explaining how to extract and turn data into useful personas so I’m not going to go into full detail on that again. You can always read a previous post on that process, or take a look at this one for some great tips.

And the best way to bring the conversation mapping process to life is to walk through it end to end with an example. In this case, we’re going to choose the PC components market.

This critical initial work will leave us with two to four personas such as in the example below:

The new rules to win in search and content marketing Search Engine Watch

With these in place, we can then use a tool such as the Global Web Index to understand things like internet use motivations for each of our personas – against the overall audience profile (Grey) (Blue = Gary, Purple = Tim, Turquoise = Imogen).

The new rules to win in search and content marketing Search Engine Watch

For details of how to build this yourself follow this brilliant guide by the GWI team if you’re interested in giving it a go for yourself.

This kind of data mash-up helps shape the more detailed picture that we can capture from qualitative research sessions and bigger data crunching.

With a clear picture of who it is that is likely to be interacting with the products or services, it means you can more accurately map that conversation and the corresponding conversation map (more on what this looks like a little later!) because there is clear understanding about the likes and dislikes of the intended audience. It becomes much easier to imagine their conversations with this picture in your head!

Mapping the conversation with data

With the personas clearly outlined, the next phase is to gather all the data insight you can to better inform the understanding of the key questions Tim is asking around your product or service.

In this example, Tim is in the market for a new gaming PC and we want to understand what his journey is at present and where he is obtaining his information. Do this and then build a super-targeted content plan around it.

What else do you need to know?

Before we start diving into the data it is important to remind ourselves of what we are trying to achieve here. We know from the state of content marketing research that marketers are struggling to align results’ delivery to content planning and need to upskill and resource to deliver that.

Delivering it means focusing and prioritizing on the opportunity closest to the ‘cash register’ – and that almost always means the search channel comes first.

By diving into organic search engine traffic, we are most likely to be able to tap into buying intent – therefore impacting traffic, conversions, and revenue fastest.

The upside to this approach is that search really is aligned now to the wider audience picture anyway, so in building out a search-focused content plan first you are working on solving the biggest pain points that your customers have and helping them in the process.

In doing so you stay front of mind and add value, meaning that you’ll be the first port of call when they do decide it’s time to buy.

Keyword research

The obvious place to start then is by digging into the keyword opportunity for your market.

That doesn’t mean having to trawl through every opportunity in your niche but instead, we want to focus on the informational and functional content opportunities.

Informational content

By far the most important area from a content strategy perspective is the informational piece – as it is here that we can create assets that answer three of the four key micro-moments that your customer will experience.

As a reminder here are the four key moments that an audience will work through as they search for answers to key questions.

The new rules to win in search and content marketing Search Engine Watch

Informational content focuses on the ‘I Want to Know’, ‘I Want to Do’ and ‘I Want to Go’ moments and this taps into a huge pool of traffic opportunity.

To give you a feel of what that looks like I have included a visual here showing the size of the prize from a selected keyword set of 4,502 phrases in the PC component niche.

Let’s look then at the process for pulling that data into useful formats to aid the content planning process.

The objective now is to establish where to focus effort in content creation to ensure you have the assets necessary to cover the entire user journey, which you can join together later.

To kickstart the process, I’ve used a tool that Zazzle Media built specifically for this task called the KIT (Keyword Identification Tool) but here’s how it basically works:

The ‘KIT’ process

We begin by extracting a large set of both functional and informational keywords using a mix of competitor keyword research and keyword explorer research. To maximize the size of the set, you can opt for multiple sources and then de-dupe using tools like Ahrefs, Moz and SEMrush.

Once you have the keyword set you are going to be working from, it is best to get ranking data, so you can see where your site is ranking for this content already. This will help later when creating your content strategy, as being able to see where you currently rank for a keyword lets you know whether you need to optimize an existing page or create a new one.

We have our own in-house tools to gather this position data in bulk, there are however third-party tools you could also use, for example:

Whatever rank tracker you decide to use, after it has scraped your position data you will need to export a CSV then use VLOOKUP to pull that information into the ‘Keyword Research’ tab in this free Google sheet tool we’ve created to help pull it all together easily.

There is more detail about the different ways to then categorize that data in this blog post by Zazzle Media’s Sam Underwood, and below you can see a couple of my personal favorites:

  • Incremental informational keyword opportunity by category

graph on incremental informational keyword opportunity by category

  • Incremental traffic by an operator

The new rules to win in search and content marketing Search Engine Watch

This is useful as it helps us to understand where the persona ‘Tim’ is looking for information and across which product categories. This is the gateway from which you can dive deeper into specific areas to prioritize where to focus next.

To get further value, you could also combine the category information you already have with the most frequently used search operators. From this, you are able to not only work out where Tim is searching, but also how – allowing you to shape and prioritize what questions and pain points you write content for first.

In this example, it might make sense to prioritize ‘motherboards’ for instance and look to create content around ‘best’ and ‘reviews’.

Content auditing

Next up we need to take a closer look at the quality of what is already out there to understand the level at which we must compete to win.

‘To know your enemy, you must become your enemy.’
Sun Tzu

To do that, you need to look both at what you already have and also what is currently out there and working.

This subject is enough to fill a post all of its own so I’m not going to dive into both elements of that here. Instead, for the content auditing part, I implore you to read this recent post by Everett Sizemore, which does a brilliant job of walking you through the perfect process. A lot of this focuses on the technical elements of content auditing but this is still an important element as to maximize ROI (the key fix here) we must also ensure that the platforms from where we publish are ‘fit for purpose’.

However, we need to focus more on the other half of this, by diving into the wider picture and answering the question, “what is working now?”.

To do that you can jump into Buzzsumo or Ahrefs’ content explorer. There are already excellent guides on using Buzzsumo for content research, such as this one so we won’t go over information that has already been covered in-depth.

The output from content research should really be some solid data on what kind of content we know people like related to a specific industry and niche. You should be able to explain the following things:

  1. The types of content that work
  2. Which social networks you should be promoting on
  3. What the ideal word count is
  4. Any topics that work well

For this piece of work, some other beneficial things to gather are below:

  • Most popular content types

graph on most popular content types

graph on traffic by word count

It’s incredibly clear that for Tim, articles work best and videos where in-depth ‘how’ questions are asked and that’s hugely powerful for shaping your overall content strategy.

In scenarios where we know that written content is key, the next important step is to get a better understanding of how to go about creating it – and the biggest variable is word count. Here we can look at organic traffic by word count and therefore understand the most visited (and visible) content length as well as the most shared content through social (second chart).

This data is not to be viewed as a suggestion that word count affects rankings, or indeed has any effect on the SERPs; instead, we are using it to understand content consumption patterns – and the takeaway here is that Tim likes more in-depth content, as is more willing to share it.

Conversation mapping

The challenge, of course, is bringing all this to life in the context of the user/visitor and this is where our ‘Conversation Mapping’ concept comes into play. To bring that to life let’s follow our current example journey for Tim.

The idea here is to use the usual ‘brainstorming’ meeting to work through every possible conversation around the purchase journey for your product or service.

Instead of looking for individual content ideas, we instead think about the buying process and journey Tim might take through our fictional PC component site.

Clearly, this can be a lengthy process that will spit out multiple examples. For the sake of this story, however, we will look at one – the motherboards opportunity.

And to do so it requires a second voice, not just a list of questions that Tim may ask, and as a result this is where we can also start to think about the emerging voice search opportunity and know more about where Google is taking search following the logical user journey from beginning to end around intent.

Not following what I mean? Let’s look at an example:

conversation mapping example

This theoretical ‘conversation’ is one of the many Tim will be having around this product and the idea is to take the ‘motherboard’ concept and sit in a room to brainstorm the potential conversation variations that may exist around the product.

You may find there are only one or two – or it may be there are dozens, in which case distill them down to a core of the most important ones post brainstorm, to make it easier to then think about designing the content plan around it.

Content planning around the conversation

The next phase is to then map content opportunity against that conversation, as in the below example:

So, what we have done here is to think about all of the opportunities there are along that conversation to create content to help make Tim a smarter consumer.

content planning around the conversation

Turbocharging the opportunity

With your informational and functional plan in place and your conversation mapping exercises complete you’re already looking good for returning a greater ROI when it comes to measuring impact at year end. But there’s also another reason to focus on this approach – and it’s all to do with future market share.

Featured snippets

Unless you’ve had your head under a rock these last few months you’ll have been bombarded by news about the importance of featured snippets. For those that don’t know what they are, snippets are the SERP feature that pulls out and highlights content designed to answer the question being asked by the searcher.

An example of one that Tim may come across in his search for his PC components can be seen below for clarity.

google snippet example

Claiming a snippet requires you to create the best answers to those specific informational queries and doing so better than anyone else.

Google and Bing both do a lot of testing of contenders for these slots to ensure they have the best of the best by measuring bounce rate, dwell time and other factors, and that gives you a really good opportunity to use your content prowess to claim them.

And don’t expect the format to go away anytime soon. Google has been very open in its end game plan to produce a ‘Star Trek’ computer with one answer for everything, as those answers will be triggered by snippet results. It’s something I’ve written about recently here and how the plan will push voice search to the forefront of our planning within the next couple of years as a result.

Given then that such features will only grow in prevalence and importance in the coming months and years then it pays to ensure you have a very solid snippet plan as part of your ROI-focused content planning process.

To do that we can dive back into the data to understand the current snippet share and also where the opportunity still lies ahead of you.

Snippet market share

Before we dive into the planning process it is important to benchmark. To do this we dive into an internal tool called ORT, but it is possible to use a manual process utilizing data from a tool such as Ahrefs or Moz that allow you to extract snippet information and to then use VLOOKUP to push it into separate tabs that show you pieces of insight such as:

Overall snippet market share:

overall snippet market share

  • Featured snippet opportunity by category

featured snippet opportunity by category

  • Featured snippet opportunity by an operator

featured snippet opportunity by operator

And while this level of traffic is clearly a welcome opportunity it is all critical to understand what it means for the future as well.

We’ve already discussed how snippets will play a key part in the move to voice interfaces, as they provide the ‘direct answers’ given by voice assistants such as Google Home. With 50% of all search queries expected to be delivered by voice by 2020, that key SERP has never been more important as part of a rounded strategy.

Claiming them 

Snippets themselves are important as Google is building SERP ‘real estate’ around them simply because they are part of its growing conversational search strategy. As we move towards voice-led searches the phrases we use naturally become longer and contain much more natural language.

Google wants to incentivize the building of more useful, conversational content to fuel its voice plans and snippets are therefore precisely that – a reward for creating such content and are, as a result, the perfect way in which to test your own voice strategy. Snippets serve as the perfect signposting to a great ‘conversation mapping’ plan.

To give yourself the best possible opportunity of claiming snippets the key factor is a focus on content quality and structure. Numerous recent studies like this and this have pointed at the importance of precisely structuring pages to separate paragraphs into bite-sized 40-50 word direct answers and make the use of bulleted list and tables to present information.

Other useful insights include:

  • Create lists if your users are predominantly mobile-first
  • Write succinct headers that exactly describe the answer being given
  • Use strong external links to trusted sources
  • Use HTTPS
  • Make sure your site is mobile friendly and fast
  • Use multiple images
  • Use tables where appropriate

To make it really easy you can download a really simple guide to page and content structure for snippets here.

Summary

In short, the key to getting over this clear disconnect between content strategy, production, marketing and a return on growing investments is to double down on data and make search the key focus for activity.

Of course, by becoming successful, content has the unique power to positively affect many other key indicators as it never works in a silo.

And with search engines now much better at rewarding people-based marketing efforts with more traffic, rather than keyword focused strategies, a content-led approach is the only way to attack.

Data plays a critical part of that as the days of subjectivity are behind us. By leveraging search data, we can truly understand what our audiences are looking for, what pain points they have and how we can make their journeys more informed and easier to navigate.

The process for doing that starts with the insight piece, defining key persona groups within your target audience and then in understanding their ‘I want to go’, ‘I want to do’, and ‘I want to know’ moments through the informational content research process.

In short, we need to be using data to help us map conversations and not ‘keyword opportunity.’ Do that and you’ll ensure that you deliver positive ROI from your owned and earned marketing activity.

And if you missed the wider findings from the state of content marketing survey then here’s that link again.

Simon Penson is the founder and Managing Director of Zazzle Media. He can be found on Twitter at @simonpenson.

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