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Principles for driving content performance

July 24, 2020
📓 Article

How do we see forward-thinking marketers drive content? There are four principles that we’ve seen our clients use to be successful with content performance and SEO.

  • An organic search strategy that’s well-executed today can improve your marketing across all channels, forever
  • Marketers should build an audience that they own – not search engines
  • The best content libraries are treated as a product that’s continually improved
  • Underlying all successful marketing is an efficient idea-to-content pipeline that makes generating high-quality content part of the day to day operation of your business

1) Build an SEO strategy that improves your marketing everywhere

To be successful in organic search, you need a strategy. “Keyword strategy” is often made to sound complicated, but fundamentally it’s pretty simple – find topics (not just keywords, topics) that are relevant to your business, with a worthwhile balance of competition and volume. Here’s how we do keyword strategy, by the way, plus our template.

Once you have a strategy, you can pursue it using tactics that improve your marketing everywhere, not just on search engines.

  • The most important of these is to generate high-quality content – articles that have enduring interest for your customers, that respond to their questions and help them get more done, and that are additive to what’s already available to them.
  • This content has a good chance of performing well in search, but it’s also critical to distribute this content far and wide – we call this a “link distribution strategy”. One component of this might be backlinks, but what really matters is a process to get this content in front of as many people as possible who it can help. That means making sure it shows up not just on social, but also on sites that are relevant to your community, on Q&A forums, in relevant articles that other people have written, in emails coming from your sales reps, and more.
  • Since this content is relatively hard to create, you’ll get the most out of it by reusing it as much as possible. A blog post becomes a webinar, and it’s a chapter in a whitepaper, and so on.

Following these practices, you get your organic search strategy to reinforce all the other places that you’re marketing. Even fixing technical issues on your site can be helpful for everything else you do if you focus on things like improving conversion rate or fixing user experience issues.

2) Focus on building an audience you own – not Google.

A huge percentage of traffic is driven to sites via search – between paid and organic clicks, some estimate more than 70%. This isn’t necessarily a problem, particularly not in the short term. On the organic side, that means changes in algorithms influence whether people see your content. Sometimes that can be really good, but sometimes it isn’t. On paid channels, if you stop paying, you lose access.

(This isn’t just a search problem, by the way. It’s a problem with any channel where you rent access to your audience, and that could include content syndication, paid email lists, social, and many other channels.)

If, on the other hand, you spend time building direct connections with your audience – via newsletter subscriptions, targeted email, freemium trials, LinkedIn connections, and so on – you can talk to those customers anytime you want, without having to get past Google’s or anybody else’s filters.

Aside from revenue, growing a direct audience is the most valuable thing a marketer can do. It’s not only a source of future customers, it’s also a source of message propagation, because the people for whom your message is useful send it out again to other people who might want to join your audience.

3) Treat content as a product, with a library that’s continually maintained and updated and acts as a resource for customers.

As compared to one-off blog posts, a product is a collection of parts (individual content pieces) that work together to help your customer level up in their job. Here’s an archive of the Drift blog from when they were just a couple years old, to show you how this can work. You can see how all the posts work together to help their prospects and customers to do their jobs better. Posts include:

  • How to define the relationship between product managers and marketers, with a link to a Slack community
  • What Relationship Marketing is
  • Growth marketing framework
  • Explanation of how UX applies to marketing

Your content is a library for your prospects and customers, and the people they work closely with. For all of those people, what is everything that they need to know to do their jobs well, preferably with a focus on the use cases or tactics that your product enables?

4) Build efficient, effective idea-to-content pipelines that make generating content part of the day-to-day, not a chore

Marketers often focus on how to come up with content ideas, but you also need a good way to convert your ideas into published content pieces. We call this the idea-to-content pipeline. The key to the idea-to-content pipeline is that, as much as possible, you want to avoid writing things from scratch. Ways to get around this include:

  • Picking topics that you know you can write about. Looking at the keyword strategy advice we give above, an additional consideration might be the amount of effort involved in creating something that addresses a particular topic.
  • Creating an outline first, and populating it using data. For example, when we write an outline on a particular topic, let’s say “carburetor repair”, we’ll use Google’s search suggestions, or other topics we want to write about, or what’s popular on social for a specific hashtag (#carburetors) as suggestions for sections to write. As a bonus, content tends to perform better on search if it hits related topics that Google considers important.
  • Interviewing your customers (and colleagues) regularly, with questions that help populate missing pieces in articles. As a bonus, some of these interviews probably could be, and should be, webinars or office hours.
  • Repurposing as much as you can. If you think about your content library as a product, can you take other pieces of the product and combine them into something new? For example, if you are writing an article on “cutlery management” for your restaurant clients, can you insert existing content about “bamboo vs. plastic”?
  • A notebook is really helpful. We keep pretty good track of all the conversations we have, and the same themes tend to emerge as we look backwards to conversations we’ve had weeks or months ago. These themes are attached to specific wording and notes that we reuse in our blog posts.
  • Having a good process for getting content up on your site is really important and often overlooked – most people think that the CMS that powers your site is a technical decision, but in large part, the CMS you choose should be governed by the speed at which it lets you get content live.

Conclusion

Designing great posts based on keyword research is only the beginning of content performance. Think of your content as a product, and use it to build direct relationships with your target audience. Over time, individual posts will add up to a content library – a resource that keeps customers and prospects coming back.

To build this content and momentum in a sustainable way, break big campaigns down into daily tasks. With an idea-to-content pipeline, this can all be one fluid, creative process.

Good questions for customer interviews

July 16, 2020
📓 Article

To create content that performs, it’s critical for writers to understand how customers perceive your product, what problems they use it to solve, and what problems, more generally, they have.

(In shorter words: writers need empathy.)

A great way to do this is by talking to customers. In the vast majority of companies we’ve worked with, content producers, and often even marketers more generally, don’t do this. Common objections include:

  • Not having time
  • Not wanting to bother customers
  • Not knowing what to ask

The first two are easy to deal with. The time you take in building empathy with customers is paid off by the time you’ll save creating the right content, and really understanding where your customers are coming from. And as for not bothering customers – they would love to talk to you about your product, as long as they feel like you’re listening. Relationships with your customers, like trust, are a positive-sum game.

So what if you don’t know what to ask? Here are a few good questions to start with.

Tell me about yourself

This is a quick one, but you want to make a connection with the person you’re interviewing. What’s their role, how long have they been in it? How do they describe the company they work at? Useful context for understanding where they’re coming from.

Before you start the interview, you should also take a minute to tell them who you are and your role at your company. And some general tips: show your engagement with the interviewee, and take it slow since often the most interesting information comes after a moment of reflection.

What do you like about your work? What do you dislike?

Start listening here for things they want to do more of – sources of value for them in their work – and pain points. If you’re interviewing an SDR who uses your product and they tell you that the most unpleasant part of their day is filling out reports, you know that the ability of your product to automate reporting is useful to them.

Tell us how you heard about our product

Did they hear about it from a friend, see it on social, or read some interesting article that led them to it? In any case, this is critical data for your content distribution strategy, and you’ll want to share it with your demand gen team, too. (Or maybe your customer can’t remember how they heard about it; that’s useful information, too.)

For extra points with your marketing ops team, see if your customer’s memory of where they heard about it is the same as what’s reflected in your lead gen analytics.

What are you using it to do?

This is the first question that will really help you home in on what you should be writing about. Not only does this answer tell you what problems your software solves, but more importantly, it tells you how your customer thinks about the problem your software solves.

You might get a really simple answer: “We use your software to manage our inventory.” But that gives you a chance to dig a little bit deeper. “Tell me more about that process”, “How did you do that before you started using our software?” or similar questions will reveal details about the customer’s goals and experiences that you can use to write more useful content for them.

What’s your favorite part of our product?

Share this answer with your product team. But also, the language here is useful for your landing pages and calls to action.

“What is your favorite part of using our CRM?” “Well, I love how flexible it is. You can basically do anything with this software.”

This customer (and others) say that they love the flexibility of your software. This leads to:

  • A series of how-to articles on all the interesting things you can do
  • A survey of top things that your CRM is used to do
  • The use of the “flexibility” theme in your ads, product page copy, and landing pages

If you had a magic wand, what would you change?

Share this answer with your product team, too. From a content perspective, the opportunity here is to know what to avoid. For example, is your search painful to use? Maybe take “powerful search” out of your landing page bullets.

If you were to describe our product to a colleague, what would you say?

This is a key question for your organic search strategy. How do your users talk about your app? What do they think it is? You can target this phrase in search. But also, if you’re hearing answers that are not what your product does, that gives you an opportunity to write content that helps users better understand what they should be using it for.

“I usually describe it as a tool that makes it easier to schedule appointments.”

Of course that means you should make sure you’re targeting how to use your product to make appointment-setting easier. But it also means that you can write some other posts about how your product maximizes customer satisfaction, or facilitates customer engagement via instant videoconferencing.

Any other comments?

Letting your customer talk will give you some useful insights. They may also have a problem that you can easily solve for them – a misunderstanding about how a feature works, for example, or lack of awareness about something that’s available to them.

Conclusion

Investing in customer interviews will generate a huge payback for your content marketing efforts. Even one interview every week or two will help you build empathy for your customer. Becoming a skilled user interviewer takes time, and there are lots of places to learn more; Nielsen Norman Group is a go-to for us.

Building trust with your site visitors

July 15, 2020
📓 Article

Marketers spend a lot of time figuring out how to get attention. We pay for it on Google and LinkedIn and Instagram, we think about whether our search results will end up at the top of someone’s screen when they are trying to solve a problem, and we send lots and lots of email with cute titles. We use lots of fun gimmicks – sometimes ones that have nothing to do with the brand or what you offer – just for the attention and the chance to continue the conversation.

It’s competitive, and the competition is exhausting. Attention is zero-sum. There’s a fixed amount, and to get attention for yourself, you need to take it from someone else.

Sometimes looking for attention works, and it’s certainly an important thing to know how to do.

But there’s a big part of the story that marketers often miss – building trust. Trust is needed for any transaction to take place, and the world’s biggest brands are often those that are the most trusted. Trust is:

  • Positive-sum. When you build trust with a customer, it’s easier to build more – versus attention, which you get a limited amount of. And when I build trust with a customer, it doesn’t mean there’s less trust for you. In fact, we can both benefit at the same time.

  • A way of reducing friction. When you build trust, the right customers go from wondering, “how can I avoid buying from this person?” to “I bet this person can solve my problem, and I want to work with them to make that happen.”

  • Key to customer satisfaction, especially for complex products like software. The path to getting value out of them is long and circuitous, and it only begins with the sale.

So how can we focus on building trust?

Make promises, then keep them

The major way to build trust is to make promises, and then keep them. This manifests itself in a lot of ways, including consistency, value, and authenticity. Some examples:

Explain clearly what your product is about on the front page. When companies make really vague pronouncements on the front page, it’s a missed opportunity to make a promise about what you deliver, and how. And it often confuses visitors or turns them off.

Here’s an interesting example. Is the heading clear? Should their subhead be the heading? If you had never heard of this company, would this make you want to buy?

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Make it easy to access useful information. This can mean a lot of different things, from having a clear and consistent navigation bar, to having clear topics in your content library that are navigable and correspond with your visitors’ problems.

The content library from Nielsen Norman Group, a UX consultancy.

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Be consistent with your brand. This can mean simple stuff like making sure your design is up to date and helps your user navigate, rather than getting in their way. More generally, it means making sure that all your communications and all of your brand personality works together (though that’s a topic for another post.)

Price honestly and fairly. Is it easy to cancel? If a user isn’t getting value from your service, can you charge them less or automatically switch them to a lower tier?

We love this “maintenance plan” for a service we recently canceled (left). It’s not available until you try to cancel – which is super-easy, by the way – but it gives the user an option other than “we’re going to delete all your data.” By way of comparison, does knowing how hard it is to cancel the New York Times (right) make you want to sign up?

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Make outbound touches useful and relevant to your prospect. Personalization works in outreach. Why? Because it creates trust that someone’s reaching out to you for a reason, and has done their research.

Is this useful personalization? How could it be improved?

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Conclusion

What would happen if you viewed your goal as creating trust rather than getting attention? Slower growth maybe, at first. But ultimately – much more durable, valuable relationships with your customers and prospects.

A/B testing for startups

July 14, 2020
📓 Article

Generally, we tell clients that they need 1,000 conversions for a reliable A/B test, for each variation they’re going to test. (There are actual calculators you can use, too, but this is a rule of thumb.)

That means if you have, for example:

  • A landing page with 50,000 visitors every month, and a 5% conversion rate (= 2,500 conversions)
  • Or an ad with 250,000 impressions per month, and a 1% click-through rate (= 2,500 conversions)

You’re going to be able to run 1 reliable test each month. Of course, there’s a lot more to the story, and we recommend using a calculator like this one to know for sure. One other big factor is the size of the uplift; if you have larger differences between the test group (say they have a 10% conversion rate) and the control group (say they have a 1% conversion rate), the difference is also easier to detect. There are other parameters you can play with as well.

But the overall point is that it takes a lot of traffic. As you grow larger, you can run more tests! A million views of your homepage every month, with a 5% conversion rate, means 50 tests a month – and you can really get into things like buttons, form fields, copy, and more.

But what if you don’t have that much traffic? Is an A/B test still worthwhile, and how can you make it count?

Maximizing the usefulness of A/B testing

Given how few reliable A/B tests most marketers can run at a time, we suggest a few important practices to make sure they’re effective.

1) Test big. Testing slightly different landing page copy, or button size, or font color, is interesting! But ultimately, these tests often yield smaller improvements that take a long time to show up. Worse, by the time you’ve completed the test, or shortly thereafter, you’re embarking on a redesign or a new campaign that means you have to throw out your test and start again.

Instead, test an entirely different landing page design across all of your landing pages simultaneously. Try a completely different value prop on your homepage. Hide or show pricing in your nav bar. Hide or show live chat. Try to make big changes, see what happens, and use the results as evidence not just for marginal improvements in performance, but for significant changes in how you talk about, position, or promote your product.

2) Test all the way through. Your ads are a great place to test – super-easy to try different languages, instant learning about what resonates, and usually, something like click-through rate is a faster test than form conversions.

But in addition to testing click-through rates, you probably have a goal of converting your visitor. So you need to test conversions as well to see if your ad copy is simply drawing in lower-intent visitors more efficiently, or if it’s truly doing a better job at positioning you to prospects who would be interested. (You don’t have to A/B test your landing page in addition to your ad, though testing an ad in combination with a landing page might give you a more powerful signal.)

(If you’re an ecommerce business, this is a lot simpler, of course – and effective e-commerce tests do generally track all the way through to revenue. This point is directed mostly at B2B companies with a more complex sales cycle.)

3) Get the fundamentals in place before you test. A/B testing is useful, but talking directly to customers – and perhaps even showing them a landing page and soliciting their feedback – might be worth prioritizing. (And that approach will definitely give you more useful feedback.) There may be other fundamentals you need to work on first, too. How’s your design? Is your page showing up in search? Does it have a clear value proposition?

4) If you are going to A/B test, do it as a program, instead of as a one-off. Bake it into your process to always test your email subject lines, for example, and then choose the winner as the final send. By doing this, you’ll get better at testing, you’ll learn more, and your ultimate results will be a lot better.

5) Don’t hack your own test. Choose a timeline or an endpoint for the test – let’s say 1,000 actions – and then stop the test there. And don’t stop the test until you reach that point. Ending tests prematurely when a desirable outcome has been reached, even if that outcome is mathematically significant, is a major reason why marketers get false results from their A/B testing program.

6) Track your test. We don’t just mean keeping track of the results of the test, though of course that’s important! We also mean – what did you learn from each test? Why did you run it? What did you expect to see (your hypothesis), and what actually happened? This can add another layer of learning, since you don’t just learn from the test, you see how it compared with your thought process before you ran the test.

What kinds of A/B tests are useful?

In general, A/B tests should focus where learning will be most beneficial – and that isn’t necessary where you have the most conversions.

  • For example, if you have a page that lets users sign up for a demo, test 2 different versions of the page, with different value propositions, perhaps a description of what happens during the demo, social proof, and so on.
  • Consider A/B testing different page templates, not just individual blog posts or landing pages.
  • Make A/B testing part of an ongoing program, particularly for marketing emails, email outreach, and, if you have enough conversions, for paid advertising.

Conclusion

A/B testing is a powerful method for improving performance, but if you have less data, there are techniques you can use to really make your A/B tests count. In addition to ensuring a statistically valid test, make your tests bigger – more significant changes, a more thorough view of the entire sales funnel, and more consistent testing as part of the work you do every day.

Programs, not campaigns

July 13, 2020
📓 Article

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.

Conclusion

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.

  1. (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
📓 Article

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 analytics strategy. A major cause of slow loading is lots of Javascript, and often, lots of Javascript means lots of tracking tools.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Conclusion

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
📓 Article

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
📓 Article

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.

Javascript to easily let your visitors opt out

We’ve written some JavaScript to make it easy to allow your visitors to opt-out of Google Analytics tracking. This code:

  • 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

Conclusion

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
📓 Article

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.

Conclusion

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
📓 Article

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.)

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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?”

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Search bar. If your CMS allows visitors to search your site, put a search bar on your 404 page.

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Popular content. If you have introductory content that appeals to a wide range of visitors, consider putting that on your 404 page, as well.

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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!)

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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.

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Conclusion

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.