Programs, not campaigns
July 13, 2020
Many marketers think in terms of campaigns. A campaign is a one-off marketing push around a specific initiative, or idea, or theme, or product release – and it usually has a pretty specific goal to drive a certain number of conversions, or a certain amount of engagement1.
If a campaign is successful, you see an increase in interest in your brand, at least for a while. But often, most of that boost is temporary. That’s particularly true in the case of campaigns that have a significant paid component, where the exposure goes away as soon as you stop spending money.
With a few exceptions (launches), we’re not big fans of campaign-driven marketing. Instead, we urge clients to think in terms of programs, rather than campaigns. Programs are:
- Ongoing, both in execution and in the results they provide.
- Iterative, meaning that you’re constantly learning from the results and improving them.
- Value-focused, meaning that you achieve marketing success by constantly increasing the value you provide to people who come into contact with you.
Why programs work
There are a few reasons programs are more reliable:
1. Data is key to effective marketing
For any program to work well, you need lots of data. Click-through rates, visits, time on site, email open rates, conversions and so on. (Ideally, we also get data about revenue, to make sure that the campaign led to increased sales.)
All of this data, particularly revenue data, can only be built over time. Which makes it really hard to learn from one-off campaigns.
2. Evergreen content rules
If you consider everything that goes into producing an asset — strategy, copy, graphics, production, and so on, it’s a significant investment. Rather than thinking about a whitepaper or a blog post as something you work on once and put away, think about your content as something you can improve over time, so you’re constantly making incremental investments in something that might already be working, rather than brand new investments in things that are untested.
And meanwhile, since most website visits come from organic search, your content can be much more effective if it has time to accumulate backlinks and traffic. One compounding post creates as much traffic as six decaying posts.
3. Iteration is key
In the days of direct mail or print ads, you had to launch a campaign, and you couldn’t change it. People still think this way about digital content. But digital allows (and requires) constant iteration and responsiveness. You can always:
- Update an instructional post with new features of your product that support what you’re explaining in the post
- Consolidate posts that aren’t performing well with other posts that are getting traction
- Make adjustments to a post as you improve your knowledge of what you’re customers are looking for, and what problems you solve for them
4. The scale of modern marketing requires a systems approach
This is a little more philosophical, but: today, your content can reach billions of people. It can reach everyone on the planet! It can (and does) reach all of your target prospects, at the same time.
In order to interact with everyone at the same time, you have to create assets that don’t require lots of intervention from you in order to encourage conversion. You have to create assets that are always present, always reachable, and that stand on their own with your prospect.
If you think about your content library as a product, everything you add to it has the potential to make everything else in the library more valuable. And if it’s valuable, it’s out there, working all the time, but you have to think about your content as a system that requires constant maintenance rather than as a bunch of stuff you write.
In general, think of your marketing as a system for building trust with your prospects and customers. That means one-off campaigns are not what you rely on – high-quality information, consistently produced and delivered – is. And you should think about that content as a system that works together, where everything that gets added improves the value of the content library as a whole.
(We at Ercule are not super-enthusiastic about using military metaphors in marketing, of which “campaign” is one, but we’ll come back to that in another post.) ↩
The 5-minute SEO audit
July 13, 2020
There are lots of really complex technical, on-page and other audits out there – with dozens (hundreds!) of things you can look at to button up your site.
While it’s all valuable, in our opinion most marketers should be focused on the fundamentals – valuable content demonstrating your brand’s unique expertise, together with high-quality user experience. That’s better for performance overall, and, in our experience, it’s better for SEO in particular.
Following these rules, there’s a 5-minute audit we do the very first time we look at a new client’s site.
Does the site load fast?
Speed is a feature. Slow loading hurts you in search and in conversion rate optimization, it’s true. And slow site speed is often an indicator of a bunch of other, deeper problems that we can’t see from the outside:
Lack of focus on user experience on the site. Site speed is important for user experience, and yet it’s one of the easiest things to deprioritize because it requires a long-term, systematic approach to your site.
A poorly-maintained CMS. If the CMS isn’t well-maintained, content editors will also find it a chore to post content. That usually means less of it, and less time to focus on high-quality content.
An unclear conversion strategy. Another major cause of slow (perceived) loading is lots of popups and site widgets. Usually, this is an indicator that many things are being tried to inflate conversion numbers.
Does it look good?
To be fair, this can be subjective. But there are a few design problems we look for in particular. Bad design tends to degrade users’ experiences, which creates friction in the buying process. It also indicates a focus on short-term metrics rather than a high-quality content experience.
Inconsistency in design. too many fonts, too many colors, inconsistent standards applied across the site, unnecessary animations. These sorts of problems create a drag on users’ experiences, and often hurt conversion by causing visitors to wonder about your attention to detail in other areas of your business.
Generic stock photos. These don’t help visitors understand your content. And they look, well, generic, particularly if they’re on core pages like the homepage or product pages. Stock photos often mean that interest in producing relevant content is low. On core pages, we hope to see custom illustrations, diagrams, or demos. For blogs, illustrations or screenshots are best. It’s also totally OK to not have images in a blog post, or to have some tasteful decorative elements instead.
Lots of popups and widgets that aim to increase conversion – these usually degrade the site experience for visitors even if they’re successful. If they go off too early (for example, when a visitor lands on the site, instead of after they’ve engaged with the content), that’s a bad sign.
Can we tell what it’s about?
It’s hard to be successful in SEO if it isn’t clear what your product does, and what your content is trying to say. A couple of things we look for here are:
Is it clear from the front page what your product does? For a lot of companies, it’s very hard to tell. But clarity is an important driver of interest and conversions. Here’s a somewhat more blunt formulation of this idea. (Side note: Sometimes a muddy value prop means that the company itself doesn’t know what it does!)
The second part of the headline is the more compelling part, but it’s there.
Is there a clear topic strategy on the blog? We often see large numbers of tags or topics, but the best way to generate inbound traffic – and be helpful to your customers – is to focus on a manageable number of ideas and areas where you can tell a complete story and deliver a useful body of expertise.
To recap, there are just 3 things that we look at in our 5-minute SEO audit:
- Does the site load fast?
- Does it look good?
- Can we tell what it’s about?
Of course, there are many other things that are worth looking at. And of course, some technical aspects are super-important. But checking off these fundamentals is the key to content performance, and a big opportunity for most businesses to distinguish themselves from their competitors.
Help your customers unsubscribe
June 18, 2020
Once you go to the effort of getting someone on your email list, of course you want them to stay there.
And in most cases, you’re emailing when you have something interesting to say, and you’re producing compelling content that means that your subscribers will never, ever, want to leave.
But there are a bunch of reasons why you should make it really easy for them to do that, anyway.
1) Some subscribers will mark you as spam instead of unsubscribing.
The more people who mark you as spam, the higher risk that GMail (for example) will mark your email as spam for all of its users. Avoid this by letting people tell you, with very little effort, when they’re not interested.
2) It looks good.
Even if I’m not planning to unsubscribe from your email, providing the option shows respect and consideration for your users. It also prevents them from complaining on social media.
3) The difficulty of your unsubscribe process shouldn’t be what keeps people on your list.
Amazon offers its warehouse associates $5,000 every year to quit the company. Why? They don’t want people onboard who don’t want to be there.
In the same way, in most cases you don’t want email subscribers who don’t want to be there. Yes, there’s room for convincing people, but your marketing process at every other step of the funnel is about generating the right leads, not just leads in general.
If someone tells you they’re not the right person, take their word for it.
4) It lets you focus your efforts better.
Database segmentation can be tricky, but at least part of the “people who are very unlikely to buy from you” segment can be delineated very quickly. Your understanding of your database, and your marketing efforts, will be much better if you can reduce that segment to zero or almost zero members.
Also, allowing people to unsubscribe easily, especially if you provide the option to tell you why they unsubscribed, can give you valuable data to increase your emails’ effectiveness.
Marketing without Google Analytics
June 17, 2020
Google Analytics is incredibly popular software. According to BuiltWith, 90% of the top 100,000 websites use it. And if you’re a marketer, I pretty much guarantee that stat doesn’t surprise you and that you’re using GA to make significant decisions about your website and content strategy.
And yet, Google Analytics has always been hugely more complex than most marketers need or understand. Its data is fairly reliable, but it’s really easy to misconfigure, and more and more users are blocking analytics tools. And for anything beyond standard reporting, Google Analytics reports use sampled data, which makes these reports unsuitable if you’re looking for high precision. If you’re not looking for high precision, you should also know that Google Analytics’ standard reporting is offered by lots of other tools, about which more below.
Do we still recommend Google Analytics? Of course – but we think responsible marketers should offer their customers a way to opt out of GA tracking, and we think it’s an interesting experiment, and useful, to think about marketing without Google Analytics.
Why you should make it easy for users to opt out of Google Analytics
Of course, in many countries, letting users opt out of tracking is a legal obligation – and visitors from those countries should see a cookie consent notice when they visit your site. For example, if you intend to provide services to people in the EU, you’ll need to comply with the ePrivacy Directive.
But there are a few more important reasons.
Anecdotally, we’re seeing more people object to excessive data collection, especially from Google. Users who care can easily block your tracking anyway, but by providing them a straightforward, easy way to do this, you send a signal that their privacy is important to you.
Over the long run, we think you won’t need Google Analytics, and you certainly don’t need Google Analytics data from all of your visitors. The functionality and data that GA provides is far more than is actually needed. The result is that it’s easy to spend a lot of time setting up complex reports that don’t help you make better decisions, that may not even be accurate, and that distract you from other important sources of information – like other people in your company, or customers.
We also think that Google Analytics will, over time, assume much less importance for web analytics. Already, tools that are privacy-focused (e.g. Simple Analytics, Matomo, Plausible, and Fathom) are starting to gain more traction.
Because these tools are also simpler, they’re easier to use, and in many cases they rely on underlying metrics that are easier to understand, and more reliable to collect. Now is a good time to start thinking about a post Google Analytics world, and considering what you really need from your web analytics.
- Provides a text link that, when clicked, disables Google Analytics tracking on your site, for the visitor who clicked the link
- Stores that preference in a cookie so that when a visitor returns, Google Analytics stays disabled
- Allows your user to turn Google Analytics back on, if they want
For the moment, Google Analytics is still an important part of the marketing toolkit for most marketers. But its downsides should be recognized – in addition to data privacy issues, Google Analytics makes it easy to get lost in complex reporting that doesn’t add value to your marketing efforts. Give your users a way to easily opt out, and we recommend giving some thought to how you’ll market in a post-Google-Analytics world, too.
Less data, more context
June 16, 2020
Here are just a few pieces of data that content marketers have to incorporate into their strategies:
- Search volume and competition for every topic you might want to cover
- Engagement, clickthrough, and conversion rates for every piece of content you produce
- Opportunity creation and close rates for the leads that your content delivers to reps
And that data isn’t even segmented – you could probably take each one of these bullets, and break it down further by device type, by geography, by where a visitor came from, by date, and so on.
And even if you spent time with all the data that’s available, some questions are still really hard to answer. Is our new home page definitely better?
- If you’re migrating from something your CEO drew on a napkin in 2004, probably.
- If you’re seeing bounce rates come down and organic traffic go up, almost certainly.
- But a lot of times you won’t ever get a cut-and-dried answer.
Your bounce rate went from 60% to 55% – that’s good! But who knows what other effects your new site has downstream. If the bounce rate went down, but conversion rates also went down, that’s neutral or bad. Even if all of those measures are going in the right direction, if your reps are closing fewer opportunities from your site, that’s bad, too.
On the other hand, you probably can’t use changes in revenue to determine whether a site redesign is good – it takes way too long for that number to change, and there are lots of other variables.
Instead, to figure out whether your content is working, we suggest a different approach: less data, more context.
Less data, more context
A common mistake marketers make is to see an unclear indication in their lead funnel or in their web engagement measurements, and try to get clarity by looking for more data from those same sources.
The result is an increase in data complexity and time spent on reporting, where what’s really needed is to build more context around the simple data that’s readily available.
Modern marketing is less about finding clear answers and more about finding clues. As a marketer, you need to tell a story to your customers, but you also need to tell a story to your colleagues about what you’re doing and why. Following up on the example above, some other context for your site relaunch might include knowing that:
- Your reps have included your homepage in their demos because it’s so clear.
- Recruiting has gotten easier.
- The exercise of building a new homepage entailed a messaging overhaul.
These things are the context into which your content fits. Measures are important, but understanding how your content fits into the rest of your organization is important, too. Data has a way of isolating marketers, but it should be a way of starting more conversations.
Making connections with your customers and colleagues about your content can help your content perform better, too. Imagine if your reps knew about everything you’re creating, and could send it out to prospects. Tools like Bamboo make it easy for people at your organization to promote your content to their own networks. Your promotion strategy can involve everyone at your company.
What data should you look at?
By the way, we’re not saying you shouldn’t look at anything. At a minimum, check out users, sessions, and pageviews, and of course you’ll want to measure entrances, bounce rates, and retained sessions. We wrote about what specific data you should look at here.
Less data, more context! Marketers should be on the phone with colleagues, prospects, and customers as much as possible. Take that information and put it together with some simple to understand data to get a fuller picture of how marketing is performing.
404 page checklist
June 14, 2020
Here are the few things we’ve seen that are (relatively) easy to do, and most likely to have a positive effect on your visitors’ experience.
First of all, make it really clear that your visitor has landed on a 404 page. A simple message like “we can’t find that page, sorry!” is great.
Next, consider adding a few things that will help your visitor get to where they’re trying to go:
Simple sitemap. Yes, you’ll have a navigation bar at the top of your 404 page, as you do for every other page on your site. But a list of common destinations is helpful, too. (A common mistake is to have a fun graphic or other branding that takes up the whole page and makes it an obstacle to your visitor finding what they want.)
Live chat. If you’re using this, make sure it pops up on your 404 page with a helpful message – “Looks like this page went away, can we help you find what you’re looking for?”
Search bar. If your CMS allows visitors to search your site, put a search bar on your 404 page.
Popular content. If you have introductory content that appeals to a wide range of visitors, consider putting that on your 404 page, as well.
Finally, a couple of other considerations that are helpful to keep in mind:
Periodically, you should check to see how often visitors 404 on your site. You can do this through Google Search Console, or using Google Analytics by searching for pages with a title matching your 404 page title. This is a great way to find pages that visitors are still interested in that may have been taken down or moved. Redirect the 404 URL appropriately.
404 pages are a great place for your design team to be let loose to do something interesting. You Need A Budget has a whole playlist! (Which is barely visible because the main graphic is so large. But still!)
A fun 404 page probably won’t help you stand out since they’re so common, but your design team might appreciate the chance to play around with a page that a lot of visitors will experience.
Alternatively, a really boring 404 page might be a little disappointing and off-brand.
404 pages are not critical to your site’s performance, but if you’re looking to be buttoned-up and have as good an experience as possible for your visitors, they’re a great place to add some simple utilities and a little bit of branding.
June 12, 2020
Our intent with this code is to offer a useful utility – but it has some downsides that we list below, and will probably need a bit of customization for your use case.
But more importantly, we want to get marketers thinking: Do you really need Google Analytics to run an effective marketing department?
Quick overview of the opt-out code
The key line of this code is Google’s functionality to turn off tracking:
window['ga-disable-' + gaProperty] = true;
Every other line of the code provides the additional functionality described above. For example,
setCookie() are fairly standard cookie functions to save and read whether your users has disable GA tracking. The
checkCookie() function uses
readCookie() to see if an option for disabling tracking has been set;
checkCookie() also manages toggling the link text to switch between opted-in and opted-out states.
To use this, you can drop the code more or less unchanged into any page on your site; that’s what we’ve done with our blog post. The
<a> element will work anywhere you place it, and if you have access to a web developer, they can attach this behavior to a button or some other element, instead.
Caveats and warnings
- Ideally, you should have this code run before your Google Analytics code runs. If Google Analytics is implemented via Google Tag Manager on your site, the easiest way to do that is to take the code between the
<script>tags and add it to a new GTM tag that fires before Google Analytics.
- Another good reason to use Google Tag Manager: This code needs to run on every page of your site where Google Analytics runs.
- If you’re subject to the requirements of GDPR or any similar legislation – this code isn’t going to be enough to cover those requirements. We don’t offer legal advice, but there are plenty of Cookie Consent companies out there that offer a full solution to this problem.
- This code sets its own cookie. The irony isn’t lost on us! It’s just a few letters –
optedout– and we tend to think that simpler cookies, that you control directly, are better. But still.
- This only works for a single Google Analytics tracker, so if you’re using more than one, you’ll need to modify the code to account for that.
This short script makes it relatively straightforward to allow your users to disable Google Analytics. We’ll continue to develop this code, but mostly we hope this sparks a conversation for you about whether, and how, you want to continue using Google’s tool. Questions? Feel free to chat with us, or open an issue in the GitHub repo.
What data do content marketers actually need?
June 4, 2020
Google Analytics – and most other analytics tools – give you so! much! data! Almost anything you want to measure, you probably can. A quick look at the Dimensions and Metrics Explorer for GA, for example, will show you literally hundreds of:
- Metrics, which are specific measures of actions taken on your site, like pageviews or sessions
- Dimensions, which are specific ways of breaking down these measures, like geography, language, device, and so on.
Not to mention segments, filters, date ranges, etc.
But most people – and most content marketers – just don’t need this much data. In fact, looking at too much data can be distracting from your real goals, in addition to being time-consuming to set up and hard to understand and explain.
A few basic measures for content marketing
We think you can do really well with just a few things.
Pageviews, users and sessions. These are slightly different measures of engagement with your site.
Pageviews tell you how many times people looked at your pages, which can be useful for measuring the depth of engagement of a particular visitor, and the popularity of your content overall.
Users tell you how many people engaged with your site, which ultimately ties to lead generation and purchase goals.
And sessions are an important measure that’s kind of in the middle – how many engaged visits are you getting to the site? Of course, you want these numbers to increase.
Entrances. How many times did people enter your site for a certain piece of content? This is important to track so that you understand how much work your content is doing in attracting people to your site in the first place.
Bounce rate and retained sessions.
Bounce rate tells you how often someone came to your site, viewed just one page, then left. Sometimes this means that a visitor found what they were looking for, which is great – but ideally, you’re able to present other content to them, so they’ll stay.
And if a page generates lots of entrances, that’s good, but if they don’t stay, that’s much less helpful. So we calculate retained sessions by taking the number of sessions, and subtracting the percentage of sessions that bounced.
You’ll want to segment all of these measures, of course, by where visitors came from, with organic search being a key dimension to pay attention to.
Beyond the basics
We usually recommend a pretty focused set of measurements, but there are a few more things you can add if you’re doing a deep dive on your content or traffic strategy.
Heatmapping can be helpful as an infrequent exercise to see where visitors are engaging with your menu bar or other key pages on your site (e.g. the homepage). Most people shouldn’t run heatmapping tools all the time, since they slow down your site. When you’ve finished gathering data, turn the heatmapping tool off.
It can also be helpful to track a measure we call conversion contribution. For any conversion, what page on your site did that visitor first visit? If you’re knowledgeable about Google Analytics, you can track this by using the existing Converters segment, but you’ll need to make sure that conversions on your site are tracked. (We’re happy to chat about this, hit the chat button below if you want advice on your specific situation.)
Getting account-based marketing metrics from your content
If you’re using account-based marketing, there are a lot of tools you can also use to tag your visitors in Google Analytics as being part of your target accounts, then segment to see the behavior of just those visitors.
All of these engagement metrics, and particularly metrics from specific companies, should be folded into reports that your reps can use when they’re calling in.
Google Analytics (and other analytics tools) give you a lot of data. But usually, you can focus on just a few numbers to build content that performs really well – use the basics, like users, sessions, and pageviews, and of course you’ll want to measure entrances, bounce rates, and retained sessions.
Finding and using customer language
June 3, 2020
When you’re creating content for your customers and prospects, we always recommend that you use the words your customers say. Using customer language means that:
- You are addressing the problems they say they have (instead of the problems you think they have)
- The language you use is the language they use, which makes it easier for search engines and social media to match your content to their questions
- When your customers and prospects arrive on your site, you have instant credibility with them because you’re speaking their language
While customer interviews are ideal sources of this language, not every company has an ongoing interview program. But there are plenty of places you can find this language if you know where to look.
Customer review sites. Places like G2Crowd are goldmines of customer language, since they catalog thousands of reviews written by real customers. Here are a couple of good examples of useful reviews:
We’ve underlined in red the specific language that a real customer is using to describe how they use this product (in this case, Drift.)
Live chat. Live chat can be really helpful for your entire content marketing strategy. In brief, it’s literally a source to ask visitors to your website about what they’re experiencing, and what problems they’re trying to solve. (And here’s more about how live chat can improve your overall strategy.)
Interviews. Not every company has an ongoing interview program with customers, but maybe you can start one if you don’t! Some important questions to ask:
- What problems does our product solve for you?
- How would you describe our product to someone else?
- If our product disappeared tomorrow, what would you do instead?
These interviews are also great for learning about how your customers make decisions, and where they hear about solutions. “How did you hear about us?” or even “Where do you go to get information about products you’re going to use?”
Keyword suggestions. These are your favorite search engine’s suggestions for what else searchers are looking for.
Finding the language that your customers use to describe you and their problems is key to successful content strategy and promotion. There are lots of sources you can use, and the highest value is talking to customers. These conversations will dramatically improve the ability of your content to speak to the people you need to speak with.
How to organize your blog
May 31, 2020
Blogs have a lot of information, and they’re not easy to organize. Most companies do it chronologically – you arrive at /blog, and you see the latest posts.
But while chronological organization is the easiest way to organize, it’s not necessarily the way that’s most useful for your visitors.
Library vs. publication
You can think of your blog using a bunch of different metaphors.
In a “library” metaphor, you walk up to a shelf (visit your blog) and are presented with a series of assets, not organized by date, but by topic. Your blog becomes a source of reference, and what matters is that all the content available is up to date.
In a “publication” metaphor, you open a newspaper (visit your blog) and are presented with the latest news. Your blog is a way for people to keep themselves updated on what’s going on at your company, or in your industry.
These metaphors suggest some other things about how your blog might work:
In a library, your featured posts might be the ones that are the most popular ever, or ones that are topical. If your blog is a publication, it’s whatever’s popular right now.
If your blog is a library, the topic matters most and your design should make that information easy to find. If it’s a publication, the date is the most prominent piece of information.
In a library, you should plan to keep all of your information up to date. In a publication, new content takes the place of old content.
But you know… both of these could be important ways of presenting information to your visitors. So why not both?
It’s good to have multiple views of your content
These metaphors are useful to keep in mind, but they muddy the waters a little bit. “Blog” and “library” aren’t meaningful by themselves. They’re just ways of presenting the resources you’ve already created; they’re not the information itself. And we think you need both.
A blog – because some visitors will care about the latest content you’re posting. For a lot of companies, job applicants, prospective customers, and even investors might go to a blog to see if you’re active and what you’re doing.
A library – because some visitors will need to track down specific information that you’ve posted:
You can build a hub page in your library for a specific topic your customers care about, just like you might have a section of your shelves devoted to Mesopotamian history.
You can have search for visitors who trust you as a resource to advise them on their latest marketing campaign.
Your sales team is an unconsidered audience for your library; they need a single place where they can easily find content to send to prospects.
And then think of the things you have to offer – articles, white papers, videos, resource guides – as resources that you can present in both of these formats.
Blowing up the blog
Let’s take it one step further. Don’t think of “blog posts” anymore. Think of:
Articles that appear on your blog, and maybe in your library, too!
News updates that appear on your blog, but maybe not in your library.
A whitepaper that appears in your library, and that has a blog post announcing it and summarizing its contents.
Temporary and time-sensitive updates, like product changelogs, that now have a home on your blog, because your blog isn’t pretending to be a library.
And so on. Thinking of your blog as a presentation format, or as a view, and thinking of assets separately – getting rid of the idea of a “blog post” – gives you much more flexibility, and helps you get out of bad content habits. And it lets you put a lot more stuff on your blog, too
Chronological posting should not be the default. Consider all the types of content you actually create – whitepapers, articles, changelogs, videos – and think of the blog and the library as ways of presenting appropriate content. Using this approach makes both your blog and your library more relevant and useful for your visitors.