October 8, 2020
👷♀️ Change Log
👋 Here’s a quick update on how we made Ercule service better in September 2020. Some useful additions to the content library this month, including:
- Improve your comparison pages (or start building them) with our new article on comparison page best practices
- “Product positioning and messaging should drive strategy”, an article that discusses the relationship between product marketing and the content and SEO teams.
We’ve started trying to share more about what we’re seeing in the field, too. Most recently, we’ve written up whether Google Discover is helpful for B2B marketers, and the advantages of using Markdown.
October 3, 2020
Pages that explain how your product compares with competitors – they’re extremely helpful for your prospects, and for Google, too.
There are a few ways to put these pages together. Let’s say you run a service called Badminton. You could own:
- The phrase “Alternatives to Badminton”.
- Similar phrases for your competitors – if your competitors are TableTennis and Squash, try owning “Alternatives to TableTennis” and “Alternatives to Squash”
- Phrases that specifically compare your product to these competitors, like “Badminton vs. Squash”
- Phrases that help prospects understand how to choose a solution in your area, whether or not they specifically mention your competitors
Building pages like these can:
- Help your customers evaluate whether your solution is the best fit for them
- Bring you to awareness with customers who might not already know about you
- Help you more deals where your solution is (or appears to be) a better fit
Where to focus when building comparison pages
We’ve outlined several different approaches in the first list above – and you probably don’t have the resources to produce all of this content at once.
Mostly, where to focus should be decided by where the search volume is.
For example, if you’re small or a new entrant, it might make sense to first build out pages that show you as an alternative to your larger competitor. That lets you take advantage of interest associated with that competitor. On the other hand, if you have some traction, you might want to invest the resources to inform customers who are looking for alternatives to you.
Once you’ve decided how to attack building these pages, it’s time to start building them. The first step is to make sure these pages “frame the conversation” with your prospect.
Framing the conversation
In every conversation, we present different framing by emphasizing different information – even if all the information we provide is true, we can show different lenses on it.
As a marketer, you want to give true information, but you can certainly do it from the viewpoint of your product, focusing on the feature categories that you think are the most important, and that are likely to lead to a better experience for the user overall.
- Heap does a good job of this. They choose comparison points like “Easy to implement” and “Access to complete historical data” which they believe are the most important to the user (and where they can win).
- Guru also does this, and fairly aggressively. They only give their competitor Notion a checkmark in a couple of generic categories, including a sneaky one that’s actually a way of pigeonholing them into a very specific use case.
Don’t compare yourself to your competitors based on what they think is important. Compare yourself based on what you think is important.
Elements to include on comparison pages
Once you’ve decided how to frame the conversation, you’ll probably build some kind of comparison chart as in the examples above. That’s a pretty basic tactic, and in addition to a comparison chart, there are a few other items you can include on your comparison pages to make them even more effective.
- Testimonials can be extremely powerful to show exactly who your solution is better suited to. PieSync has some of these on its comparison pages versus Zapier. However, these can be pretty hard to come by, and it’s critical to keep these up to date. A more sustainable long-term strategy is to use more generic testimonials and keep them up to date with all of your others.
- Sites like G2Crowd provide crowdsourced reviews and statistics comparing different solutions. If you can keep these reviews up to date, they can be a powerful tool to show the differences between your solution and another.
- In addition to specific comparisons to your competitors, it’s also important to include your standard product messaging. Remember that many visitors to your page will not know who you are, who uses your product, or how you price. This is all important information to include, everywhere.
- Migration information can be helpful for prospects. If it’s easy to move from a competitor’s product to yours, include information about this capability or service on the page. Doing this removes one of the major barriers to consideration: switching costs.
- Once you’ve put together multiple compare pages, add a central location for all of them. Toast does a good job of this. A possible downside to this strategy is that if your competitors aren’t well known, but you are, you end up exposing your visitors to alternatives they may not have been aware of. However, even if you are doing that, that gives you a powerful way to frame the conversation about these competitors.
Other considerations for comparison pages
If a user is on a comparison page, that likely means they’re close to making a purchase decision or are, at least, actively researching. In that case, it’s useful to include live chat so that you can quickly answer other questions that come up.
If you have a sales team, it’s also critical that your sales teams have the information that’s on the comparison pages. Even better, originate comparison page content from content your sales teams are already using.
Lastly, strongly consider putting a retargeting pixel on your comparison pages. Visitors here are likely to be worth actively engaging through some kind of paid retargeting program.
Comparison pages can be incredibly valuable selling tools and helpful for prospects as they make decisions about whether to buy your product. When building them, think strategically about what message you want to send and how you want your prospect to think about you versus your competitors. There are lots of other things you can do to make these pages successful, too – sharing them with your sales team, offering live chat, and generally creating a comprehensive resource for switchers and potential switchers.
October 1, 2020
📗 Field Note
From a member of our content marketing team:
I’ve been writing web content now for over a decade but am afraid to code. Upload a file to the CMS? You got it. Send a plain text doc to the web team? Gladly. I’ve even been known to paste text in the occasional WYSIWYG. But ask me post to my copy in HTML and I start to shiver.
Ercule has a small team and we blog with a static site generator, so my team kindly nudged me to get in the back-end.
So I’ve started using Markdown and I think it’s the perfect content writing experience. Here’s why.
It’s a less intimidating workspace to enter
It uses visual analogs
I start an unordered in Markdown basically the same way I would in a Google doc or even a word processor: an asterisk and then a space and then I type on. Numbered lists? Equally intuitive. Creating a task list requires actual Markdown language – but the command itself is a nearly literal-visual translation.
That is, it takes on the visual shape of a task list, the same way this looks like a person shrugging:
¯\_(ツ)_/¯. (Now if only the Markdown code for emojis were always so obvious.)
No toolbars required
The basic blog formatting I need is easily typed out in Markdown, which I prefer over a WYSIWYG simply because it distracts less from the act of writing. This means that I also have to actually learn the language as I go, rather than relying on buttons, which does interrupt workflow a bit. But I appreciate having to learn the language.
I’ve wanted to know how to code in the same way that I prefer cooking my own meals over hitting up the drive-thru. I was overdue for a way in, and Markdown is it.
September 29, 2020
The 2 most basic components of product marketing are:
- Positioning: How you and your customers should think about your product, generally
- Messaging: What you say to customers to communicate your product’s purpose and value to them
Both of these should underpin what you write and how you distribute it.
Imagine a company whose sole business is catering for office lunch; we’ll call them LunchEx.
In their product positioning, LunchEx can make some choices about how to talk about, and categorize, the service they provide. LunchEx needs to figure out:
- What type of business they are. A restaurant that’s delivery-only, or a delivery service with a kitchen attached? You could imagine how these might be the same business. But each suggests different competitors, pricing, and offerings. Each occupies a different position in your brain.
- Who their customers are. Is their customer a startup CEO who wants to be able to easily provide in-office lunch, or a facilities manager who’s looking for a standard solution to cater meetings? Again, same business with very similar activities, but positioned and talked about differently.
- What problems they solve. Do they improve employee happiness (because the food is so good), reduce cost (because they’re good at inventory management), save time (because it’s one click to cater a meeting?) LunchEx probably solves all of these problems incidentally, but there are a few they should make a decision to focus on.
- What activities (or competitors) they replace. Do you sign up with LunchEx instead of having a company DoorDash subscription? Or does LunchEx let you postpone building a company cafeteria? Again, maybe both, but product marketing can help you think about where to focus.
All of these are fundamental questions about the positioning of the same, or very similar product – but they all suggest different answers to the space that the product takes up in prospects’ minds, to the followup questions they might ask, and even to the ways in which LunchEx might expand.
Product positioning and content strategy
All of these decisions about your product suggest:
- Different topics and keywords you should target
- Different content that you should produce
- Different strategies for distributing and promoting that content
Following the LunchEx example a little further:
- If LunchEx is a delivery service that specializes in food (as opposed to a restaurant that does delivery)…
…that suggests a higher weight on people looking for “food delivery service”, as opposed to a restaurant that happens to deliver, which suggests needing to target different cuisines with the “delivery” keyword. And that suggests content that relates to how to choose a food delivery service, for example.
- If the problem LunchEx solves is “meeting catering”…
…that’s an important topic, especially if there are marketing communication artifacts or copy about this problem already. And that suggests content that relates to how to run more successful meetings or how to choose a caterer.
- And of course, the use cases, such as “food health and safety at the office”, “ethically-sourced office lunches”, and “cost-effective catering”…
…are all possible topics either on search or in another medium – if that’s what LunchEx is targeting as part of their marketing strategy.
Product messaging and its effects on content strategy
Once you’ve made a decision about your product’s positioning, another big question is the messaging used to talk about the product.
The messaging is the words that you say about your product, rather than the category it occupies and how your prospects think about it. In the same way that product positioning guides what you talk about, product messaging can do the same for the words you use.
For example, for LunchEx, your messaging pillars might include talking about how LunchEx:
- Saves money – because LunchEx is cheaper or more cost-effective
- Makes your employees happier – because they save time on ordering, because the food’s better, because ethically-sourced ingredients are used, etc.
- Ensures health and safety – because LunchEx ensures certain ingredients are not used; because of LunchEx’s inspection record
Each of these can also provide another wealth of topics to use in content marketing:
- Ways that businesses can save money
- Ways to improve employee happiness
- Ways to improve health and safety
- Ways to deal with food allergies among employees
- Information about employers’ legal liability for catered lunches
And so on.
Content distribution and product positioning
Once your content has been produced, you also need to distribute it. And this is where product positioning comes back into play. Who’s the economic buyer, and who are the interested parties? Who will recommend your product and talk at your conferences? Making this determination has a huge impact on the distribution strategy for your content.
If your product is intended for facilities managers, that suggests a different perspective on the connections you need to cultivate on LinkedIn, the Slack communities your content marketing team will want to join, and the publications where you can syndicate content.
For example, a product that simplifies life for facilities managers might be more successful in a facilities management LinkedIn group, or through promotion in partnership with a company that provides package check-in services.
On the other hand, if your product solves problems for startup CEOs and other team leaders, your strategy for finding those people will be completely different – it might involve partnering with an incubator or VC, joining exclusive Slack communities, or taking advantage of referrals.
Research on what topics are popular is very important, but it should come second to a basic understanding of what those topics are and who cares about them. Product marketing drives content marketing, not the other way around.
September 12, 2020
📗 Field Note
(Re)launched in 2018, Google Discover is Google’s newsfeed-like experience that proactively presents information to logged-in users before they search, on topics that Google thinks are interesting for them.
For example, a user might see on their Google homepage a guitar tutorial, or a specific news item that’s similar to what they’ve read before.
We expect Discover to contribute very little traffic to B2B publishers. Discover appears to surface mostly entertainment- and news-related items. In addition, Discover updates the newsfeed constantly, which means evergreen content is less likely to show up, and probably to be tapped on, than more current content.
Inclusion in Discovery requires best practices around content tagging, including publication date, author, and contact information, as well as setting image previews to large. See Google’s content policies for more. Most of these are best practices, but some may require special effort which for most B2B marketers won’t make sense to invest.
This article from Search Engine Journal includes more statistics and information about how Discover works.
September 6, 2020
A lot of companies – especially those starting out with content marketing – look to Medium to host their blogs. There are a couple of reasons this is appealing:
- Medium might give you access to a broader audience than you can otherwise reach
- Medium (sort of) replaces a CMS – making it really easy to post new content in a way that’s quick, well-understood and attractive to your audience.
In general, we don’t recommend that you host your blog on Medium. (At least not exclusively.)
But there are ways to integrate Medium with your content strategy in a way that benefits your overall search presence. The same is true of Google – but with both sites you want to leverage their reach in a strategic way so you can realize some benefit.
When you post on Medium, you’re giving up some control of your content
Posting on Medium provides a lot of advantages – a built-in audience, attractive layout, easy posting, and some useful widgets, including social sharing, highlighting, and embedding of approved widgets.
But submitting your content to Medium means giving up some control of how it’s presented. Medium:
- Controls the presentation of your content, including fonts, colors, design, and layout
- Limits how and where you can add calls to action
- Is the target of any backlinks content receives
- Limits your ability to export posts in a way that’s easy to migrate somewhere else
- Lets you see only specific analytics related to your content
- Prevents you from retargeting visitors to your Medium posts
Yes, but don’t you get broader reach on Medium?
Potentially, if you get really good at writing content that Medium’s audience wants to see. But in that case, why not get good at writing content that your audience wants to see?
The balance is especially weighted away from Medium for highly technical or expertise-based content, where the likelihood of getting broad exposure (“going viral”) is small. Articles that get broad reach on Medium tend to have broad popular interest or relate to newsworthy events.
All of this is to say: In a technical, but important sense, when you’re posting to Medium, you’re reaching – and building – their audience instead of your own.
Testing Medium as a distribution channel for your blog content
That’s the case against posting to Medium. But there might be some instances in which it’s totally worthwhile. If:
- Your articles have broad popular appeal
- You’re starting a publication, involving other writers (companies with offerings complementary to yours, maybe?) and have the time and energy to devote to that publication, or
- You’ve talked to customers and you’ve heard that they read Medium
Those might all be cases where it’s worth hosting your blog there.
And so far, we’ve really talked about the idea of hosting your blog exclusively on Medium. But there are some other alternatives to try:
- Find a publication that caters to your audience, and place your content there to test how (and whether) it’s received. This can be a part of a broader strategy of being a guest on any number of sites that are relevant to your target audience – online discussion communities, trade publications, social networking groups, and so on.
- You can also re-post your existing content to Medium. If you do this, be sure to set the canonical link appropriately to avoid penalties.
Both of these can give you a “feel” for how much effort it is to post on Medium, and what kind of results you might expect.
Medium is an awesome site for voracious readers. The net awesomeness for business and technical content is less clear.
While there are cases where it may make sense to invest there, ensure that your customers and prospects are reading it to begin with – it’s worth asking them directly about it before you spend a ton of energy eking out space on the platform. And these discussions might turn you on to platforms and communities that are more primed for your community.
September 5, 2020
👷♀️ Change Log
👋 Here’s a quick update on how we made Ercule service better in August 2020.
- 🚢 We shipped the first version of our Content Stack Audit. We’re super excited to have a publicly-available resource that anyone can use to audit their performance across the entire content stack.
- 🚢 Some useful additions to the content library this month, including “Building the idea-to-content pipeline” and “Speed is a feature”.
- 🗺 We spent a lot of time on roadmapping our services, including things we offer to people who aren’t clients yet. In particular, we’re starting to write code with a goal of launching an app that we think will be very helpful to content marketers in parsing Google Analytics.
- 🗺 Ercule clients know that we do care about backlinks, but we think about this in the context of a Link Distribution Strategy, of which backlinks are just one part. We’ve been developing the next version of our Link Distribution Strategy template, and are hoping to ship that soon.
September 3, 2020
Analytics are an important part of the content stack – understanding how your content is performing, and whether it’s driving revenue. So we often get asked to advise on, and sometimes help implement, basic marketing attribution.
(By the way, a word of encouragement if you are interested in this topic: Marketing attribution is a very hard problem, and we’re often surprised by how much improvement can be made even at fairly sophisticated organizations.)
This post is intended to show our recommended basic marketing attribution for B2B companies. Our approach is to focus on helping clients get this very simple approach working well – often that can be surprisingly difficult – before moving on to more complex models. It involves tracking 4 pieces of data for each lead and contact:
- The channel that first brought the lead to the site
- The campaign (generally equivalent to ‘form’ in this case) on which the first conversion happened
- The channel that most recently generated a conversion
- The campaign that most recently generated a conversion
We find that correctly tracking these pieces of data is enough to a fairly sophisticated view into what’s working and what isn’t, and getting the data into a marketing automation or CRM system is, by itself, enough to give a lot of flexibility in reporting. However, we generally recommend starting with first-touch attribution and influenced attribution only.
A key principle of any analytics system is for any particular measurement, categorization has to be “mutually exclusive, and collectively exhaustive”. That means that your categories cover every case, but also there’s no case that’s covered by more than one category.
For example, a common mistake we see is having a “Lead Source” field, and having a bunch of possible values including “Organic Search” and also “Webinar”. But if a lead came to your site via organic search and then joined a webinar, it’s impossible to know the correct category.
Here’s the categorization we generally start with for marketing channels (which we suggest storing in “Lead Source”):
- Organic Search
- Paid Search
- Organic Social
- Paid Social
- Inbound Link
- Content Syndication
Note that these are mutually exclusive; a lead can’t come from both Paid Social and an Event. In addition to these, we usually suggest 2 more. “Marketing Other” is a catchall for other sources that don’t fit in this list and don’t need to be broken out yet. “Marketing Unknown” is for direct traffic, where we might know they came from the web, but we don’t know how they found us on the web.
An easy way to think about marketing campaigns in this system is that they line up with Salesforce campaigns. A campaign is really any conversion point that we can see and log.
Putting them together
Together, measuring marketing channels and marketing campaigns gives you a high-quality picture of lead attribution without being too difficult to set up or understand.
- A lead might get into your system by following a social ad promoting a whitepaper – then their Lead Source (in Salesforce, say, or in Marketo) is Paid Social and their campaign is the whitepaper campaign. Or a lead might search for a keyword and see an article by you in the search results, which will make their Lead Source equal to Organic Search.
- Then later, when they come back and sign up for a webinar, that becomes their first campaign.
Marketing attribution is difficult, and most of the complex systems that marketers want to use require discipline and attention that aren’t realistic to expect. Capturing a small set of simple data – while it still requires a lot of work to ensure consistency and analyze – can help provide a rigorous picture of what’s working and what isn’t in your marketing.
August 29, 2020
We’re excited to announce that we’ve shipped our Content Stack Audit.
We’ll continue to update this audit as website best practices develop, but for now we’ve cataloged over 100 items in 9 categories - including content, site speed, usability, analytics, and more – that we think you should pay attention to to build your optimal content engine.
Future plans include explaining how important each item is, and adding more detailed posts around specific items to help give context for why these items are important, and how to think about them.
August 18, 2020
A few statistics on things we know about the influence of speed on concrete things like traffic, conversions, and revenue:
- The BBC found they lost 10% of users for every additional second their site took to load
- 100ms is the threshold for an action to be considered instant, and after 1 second, the user’s train of thought is interrupted
- Bounce probability increases 32% as time to load increases from 1 second to 3 seconds
(Amazingly, having a speedy website is also still a significant differentiator. Website speed still hasn’t improved, despite 7-fold increases in internet speed.)
Most audits focus on the technical aspects of improving site speed, but we think there are actually 3 different things to look at. How long does it take a visitor:
- To be able to start reading?
- To be able to interact?
- To find what they’re looking for on your site?
All of these need to be optimized if you want to make your site as useful as possible. (Google has an excellent set of measurements called Core Web Vitals that break the first two bullets down into specific, numerical measurements.)
There are a lot of things you can do to improve your site speed, but we suggest being strategic in every case.
If you suspect you have speed issues with your site (and even if you don’t), the first step is to audit your site. Google’s audit tool is useful, though Google’s tools tend to be quite harsh in their assessments, as Google is incentivized to improve the quality of its search results as much as possible, sometimes at the expense of publishers. Ercule also publishes a content stack audit with the things we think are really important to fix (we categorize speed-related items under “Usability”).
Technical audits invariably surface hundreds, or sometimes thousands, of issues with a site. Each one is not equally important, and we think that 20% of items can usually cover much of the improvement you’ll see.
The most important items are around site speed – if you can easily improve this – and usability.
A few measurements in these audits do cover usability, but in addition to the factors that a machine can assess, we also recommend doing user testing if at all possible to hear what’s going through visitors’ minds when they interact with your site. Here’s an example user test plan that you can use with a service like UserTesting.com.
Lastly, make sure it’s easy for your users to find the information they’re looking for. Making your website easy and clear to use and consume results in significant improvements in perceived speed, and delivers benefits for rankings, traffic, and conversions.
Choosing the right CMS and configuring your site correctly
A major cause of slow sites is having a slow or misconfigured CMS.
While static site generators are usually the fastest, pretty much any CMS can be fast if it’s properly configured. Some of this will show up in a technical audit, but make sure that caching is enabled, assets are served via a CDN, and other technical basics like minification are enabled. If you have lots of large images and other assets, see if you can reduce their size.
Loading fewer widgets
Speed matters, and not just in terms of load time. Think about your users: what do they need right away from your site? They need to see it, to explore it, and to find what they’re looking for. Optimizing for user-oriented metrics will win you more conversions. Technical audits are an essential part of the process, but UX design is crucial too.