Act-On Marketing Action Blog Act-On is a cost-effective marketing automation software platform with email marketing, lead nurturing, lead generation, lead scoring, webinar management, CRM integration, and social media prospecting and tracking tools. Tue, 27 Sep 2016 10:00:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 From lead generation to inside sales; from SEO to marketing automation, and beyond: Smart speakers and lively conversations about today’s burning sales and marketing issues. Act-On Marketing Action Blog clean Act-On Marketing Action Blog (Act-On Marketing Action Blog) Copyright Act-On Software Inc. Hot Topics in Marketing & Sales Act-On Marketing Action Blog TV-G Beaverton, OR Weekly 103608867 9 Types of Interactive Content for Innovative Lead Gen Tue, 27 Sep 2016 10:00:00 +0000 In a sea of white papers and eBooks, interactive content really stands out. Learn 9 types to help you gain awareness, generate leads, and keep prospects engaged.]]>

Need more leads? Need better leads? Almost all of us do. The trouble is, it’s hard to create content that’s so enticing, so compelling, that it convinces your audience to share their information to get it.

It’s not like they don’t have a lot of other choices. Even when we do create a great white paper, case study, or research report, it can be hard to make it stand out in a sea of similar content. There’s real skill in convincing our prospects this isn’t “just another white paper.”

Interactive content can help with that. A study from Demand Metric found that 88% of marketers who use interactive content say their content was somewhat effective or very effective in differentiating it from competitors. Compare that to marketers who don’t use interactive content: Only 55% of them can say the same.

Interactive content is also tailor-made for engagement. In fact, a working definition of interactive content could be “content that changes based on how you engage with it.” But interactive content is also just simply… clickable. Which is just one of the reasons why it’s so excellent for generating conversions – and leads.

As this Demand Metric graphic shows, a majority of marketers, 70%, said interactive content performs better than passive content.
Note that 3X as many marketers (14% compared to 4%) said interactive content performed “very well” as compared to passive content.

To give you some inspiration for how to use interactive content in your lead generation campaigns, we’ve rounded up a bunch of examples of interactive content that’s specifically designed to get leads. Some of these are simple, some are more advanced. But they’re all being successfully used right now.

1. Quizzes (or Polls).

These are one of the most well-known types of interactive content. We’ve written about them as a lead generation tactic before.

Quizzes can be light-hearted, like “Which type of dog is right for you?” Or they can be more business oriented. This quiz from BrightEdge doesn’t ask for participants’ information until the very end of the quiz. If you want to find out how many answers you got right, you have to give them your information.


This brings up a really effective way to use interactive content to get leads: Offer benchmark data. In other words, show users how they compare to their peers. We’re psychologically wired to really want this information, but it’s also come up recently in DemandGen’s 2016 Content Preferences Survey. In that survey, 95% of the marketers said they’d like companies to “provide more benchmark data” in their content.

Bonus tip: You can also use quizzes for lead nurturing, of course. Or to help your sales team gather more information about a prospect.

2. Interactive white papers and ebooks.

These are one of the best types of interactive content with which to experiment. White papers and ebooks tend to be very information-heavy, which makes them less attractive to consume for some readers. Converting them into interactive experiences takes much of that pain away.

Interactive white papers can also give you more information about how your content was consumed than a static white paper. With the static version, all you know is that the content was downloaded – you don’t know if your prospect read the whole paper, or which parts of it.

With an interactive white paper, you can see which sections they viewed, if they used any of the interactive widgets, and what information they entered. All that can help a lot when your sales team needs to evaluate and rank leads.

One of my favorite examples of an interactive white paper is from Hyatt Legal Plans. Ion Interactive helped create it.


3. Assessments/Graders.

These are particularly attractive as a lead generation tool, mostly because they can be so helpful to the people who complete them. But also because you can use the information gathered in the assessment to create an elegant email follow-up series.

Maybe that’s why assessments are the most common type of interactive content used, according to the Content Marketing Institute and Ion Interactive’s research study, Deliver Peak Experiences With Interactive Content.


Here’s one of Act-On’s assessments: “Are You Ready for Marketing Automation?” In this one, the reader gets to answer the questions before being asked for contact information. And here’s an assessment offered from Vidyard with the opposite approach from our assessment: the lead gen form is at the beginning, before you’re asked any questions. Typically, the lead gen form is at the end, but you should test to see which position will get you the most (and the best quality) leads.


4. Videos.

“Video” can mean many things. It might be pre-recorded webinars on your site. Or YouTube videos. Or embedded video tutorials on your blog or elsewhere on your site. It’s all fair game for lead generation.

There are a couple of ways to do lead generation with this format. You could use a tool like Wistia’s Turnstile, which will embed a lead generation form at some point in your video. That lets you either gate the video content itself, or to offer a “content upgrade” at the end of the video.


Another way to make videos interactive is to add YouTube annotations. These are basically little tags embedded in your YouTube videos that let users bounce around from video to video – or to one exterior URL. That URL could be a lead generation landing page you specify.

Here’s a detailed tutorial on how to create YouTube annotations.

Want an example of an interactive video? The interactive agency Rapt has one. I found it to be one part interactive video, one part interactive white paper.

5. Interactive infographics

We’ve written before about how humans are highly visual creatures. Interactive infographics leverage that, plus give us cool little digital widgets to play with.

There’s all sorts of ways to get leads from these, but the most common is to offer a downloadable version of the infographic, like Militello Capital has done here.


One other, fancier, option is to offer a personalized downloadable version of the infographic. With this, you’d ask a user a few questions, then show them the infographic based on how they answered.

Then you’d offer them a downloadable version with all their custom information. For an idea of how that might look, check out the BBC’s interactive assessment/infographic, “Your Life on Earth”.


6. Calculators.

Got a pricing structure that’s too complex for the standard pricing page table? Want to show people how much they could save by using your service? Then you need an interactive calculator.

You can also use a calculator simply as part link magnet, part lead generation tool, as has done. Note the lead generation component of this calculator – it lets you benchmark your results against your peers’.


We’ve got an ROI calculator on our site, too… if you’d like to try it out.

Determine the ROI for implementing marketing automation using Act-On's ROI Calculator

7. Solution or Product Finders.

These are similar to “configurators,” or sometimes they’re referred to as the same thing. Either way, the idea is to have the user answer a couple of questions, and then give them a customized recommendation. That recommendation may include a price, or a specific product, or a recommendation for a specific service.

The “Virtual Assistant Assistant” makes product recommendations for – you guessed it – virtual assistants. But it doesn’t tell you which service will work best for you until you give them your contact information. It has to be your correct contact information, too. The Virtual Assistant Assistant doesn’t show your recommendations on the final screen – it sends them to your email address.

If you’ve been having trouble with getting fake email addresses, this is an effective solution.


8. Games.

Addictions to Angry Birds aside, games can be a great way to attract and hold people’s attention. Add a simple lead gen form as a registration tool (or to access more features of the game, like apps do) and you’ve got your bases covered.

This is one of my favorite examples of a B2B-oriented game. It’s called Email Tycoon and was created by the U.K. email agency Alchemy Worx. To play the game, you send out different types of email campaigns, based on how much budget you have available. As you accrue budget, you’re also able to add more resources, like interns, email deliverability people, and even Ping-Pong tables.

Judging by the top scores they show (yet another way to leverage benchmarking), some people are more than a little obsessed with it.


Games are particularly effective when they’re used at the beginning of the buyer’s journey, as this table from the Content Marketing Institute and Ion Interactive’s research study shows. According to this data, games even beat out quizzes.


9. Contests.

Contests came in as the third most common type of interactive content in the CMI/Ion Interactive study. They’re reported to do especially well for attracting early-stage buyers, or for just increasing brand awareness.

These are a bit less interactive than calculators or quizzes, but there is definitely input from the users. Photo caption contests, or any contest that asks for user generated content, all count as interactive content.

The lead generation element of this is almost transparent – you need their contact information to notify them if they’ve won, right? But take the extra step and explicitly ask for permission to follow up with them (or just add them to your list) after the contest is over. It might suppress your lead count, but it will pay off with higher-quality leads.

A photo caption contest from Meridian Credit Union.
A photo caption contest from Meridian Credit Union.


As content marketing gets more competitive, simply creating good – or even great – content may not be enough. We’ll also have to present our content in interesting ways – namely, in formats that make our visitors want to click.

Interactive content is ideal for this, but it’s also a great way to learn more about our prospects. We can learn about their needs without making them fill out boring forms, or having to wait as they slowly navigate through our sales funnel.

4 Steps to Content Plan
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5 Key Differences Between Email Marketing and Marketing Automation Mon, 26 Sep 2016 10:00:00 +0000 Do you need an email marketing solution or a marketing automation platform? Learn 5 factors to help you make the right decision for your organization. ]]>

Your business is getting traction. You’ve started to gather a critical mass of leads. Even better, you have a direct way to talk to them, via their inboxes, and they’ve opted in to your email list, so they do expect to hear from you. Once you have enough potential customers and their very real email addresses, it’s time to gather the right tools to make sure your digital conversations with them run smoothly and effectively.

You begin to look at the options for marketing software, and . . . this is the point where you may have arrived at this article. There are hundreds of different marketing software tools out there, most offering some variety of automation, email, and analytical functionality. Before you compare vendors, you need to start with the most basic question: what is the difference between email marketing and marketing automation?

The answer is simpler than you might think. While both tools use email as the primary channel to engage with your audience, email marketing tracks only the actions taken by recipients of your email blasts. Marketing automation software, on the other hand, monitors every digital interaction a lead has with your business. It also compiles all that data into an activity history that gives a 360-degree view of your leads and their digital footprints.

If you’re thinking in terms of inbound and outbound marketing, an email marketing system is pretty much outbound only. A marketing automation platform, on the other hand, will help you create and manage inbound social marketing, and integrate it into your outbound programs. It will also make it easy to build landing pages and forms, so those inbound prospects can easily sign up for your list or engage with your content marketing assets.

To break it down further, here are five key differences between email marketing and marketing automation for your consideration:

This graphic outlines the five key differences between email marketing and marketing automation

1. Email Behavior Tracking vs. Web Behavior Tracking

Many of the differences between email marketing and marketing automation stem from their analytical approach – what data the platform collects. Email marketing tools track a recipient’s behavior within your email campaign. Did the prospect/lead/customer open your email? Did they click a link? Which link and how many times? And you get aggregate data, so you can see what percentage of people did what with your email, and what percentage did nothing.

With marketing automation, you get that email data plus much more. A lead’s behavior can be tracked everywhere they interact with your company on the web. After they clicked that link, did they go to a landing page on your site? What did they do next? Did they open an infographic? Download an eBook? Make a purchase? If so, how long did it take? Having the full picture of a lead’s journey through your funnel lets you plan more targeted campaigns based on observed behavior.

2. Single Path vs. Adaptive, Customer-Centered Messaging

Email marketing requires a significant investment of time on the front end –from the creation of emails, to list segmentation, and post-delivery analytics. When you’ve built a campaign, a basic email marketing program typically sends emails out to everyone on your list, and then it’s done (This is sometimes called “batch and blast”). Depending on the sophistication of the email marketing tool, you might be able to send the same email to different segments of your list, with dynamic content applying itself so that people in different segments get slightly different messages or offers.

Marketing automation also requires lots of hands-on work up front, but you can get more for your effort. You still have to create your emails, plan your campaigns and segment your list, but you can build automated programs with more choices and options. Drip campaigns send a series of messages out over time; you can set them up to go out to people automatically as people join your list.

Nurture campaigns are a type of drip campaign that sends different follow-up communications based how a prospect interacts with your messages. The platform will manage your leads automatically, based on their data profiles and digital body language. Meanwhile, real-time analytics keep track of engagement metrics and qualification level (assuming you’ve set up lead scoring). Here’s the irony: because of these automation tools, it’s much easier to create dynamic campaigns that follow the actions of individual leads, instead of a single, homogenous list. These feel more personal to the recipient. Such adaptive campaigns help the marketer make the customer the center of the campaign experience

3. Static Information vs. Dynamic Lead Scoring

Another difference is that marketing automation allows you to do has over email marketing is lead scoring. Email marketing tools know only the information about your leads that you provide, which is often just contact information. This means you aren’t going to gather a lot of ground-breaking insights unless you use a separate analytics tool. And that will mean managing another tool, and consolidating data from multiple tools to gain a single picture.

Marketing automation, with all the data it collects, can score your leads’ intent based on their firmographics data and behavioral cues. For example, if your best customers are companies of a certain size, you can create a form that asks “what size is your company” and give the good answer a high score. If you know that people who watch one of your webinars are likelier to convert, you can score the action of watching that webinar. The net result is, the better leads generate higher scores, letting you more easily identify the leads and prospects who are actively engaging with you. This allows you to tailor campaigns based on that intelligent scoring information, and to quickly, automatically, pass those leads to sales when they’re ready for a conversation.

In 2014, CMS Wire surveyed companies using lead scoring to ask what kind of results they got:

  • 42 percent named measurable ROI on their lead generation program as a main benefit
  • 38 percent named increased conversion rates of qualified leads to opportunities
  • 31 percent named increased sales productivity and effectiveness
  • 27 percent named shortened sales cycles

Your takeaway: If you have a long or complicated sales cycle, lead scoring is probably worth the trouble, and you’ll need marketing automation to do it. If your sales cycles are short and you sell goods or services that don’t require a lot of consideration, lead scoring may not be worth the trouble.

4. Revenue Assumption vs. Revenue Attribution

When you send a lead an email through an email marketing system, you can tell if the lead clicked on a link with a call to action to purchase. Separately, you can use your CRM to see whether that lead became a customer. But just because a customer opens an email and later makes a purchase doesn’t mean they made a purchase because of the email alone. They may have engaged with a dozen additional touch points and assets on your site. It’s no small wonder that 78 percent of marketers struggle to measure content ROI.

With marketing automation, you can track the full journey a lead takes and (usually) see the exact path to purchase, including any subsequent actions taken outside of email. Instead of making assumptions about purchase behavior, you can map it. That lets you see which actions and assets actually drive conversions and sales, and which are a waste of time.

5. Simple Automation vs. Intelligent Follow-Up

Most modern email marketing tools offer some kind of automation component, but the capabilities depend on the platform. In simple systems, this could mean scheduling email blasts in advance for specific dates. In more advanced marketing automation systems, you also get transactional triggers, the ability to apply segmentation rules, sending by time zone, and the capability to create nurturing programs with if/then logic built in. Some marketing automation systems facilitate account-based marketing, in which marketers can coordinate and manage their communications with multiple stakeholders inside the same company.

Marketing automation systems take automation to the next level with intelligent action based on behavioral analysis. Depending on lead behavior, the system can optimize the timing of contact, the message shared, and even create suggestions for offline contact such as phone calls or direct mail.

Which System Will Meet Your Needs?

Both email marketing and marketing automation systems can be useful tools for any marketer to start conversations and make connections with the people in their lead base. The choice between which type of tool is right for your business depends on how much you want (or need) to accomplish with your leads before they make it to the sales team.

If your sales cycle is simple and your leads don’t need a lot of attention – maybe one or two touches, such as a newsletter or a few promotional blasts – an email marketing solution might be exactly right for your needs, and a marketing automation platform may prove too advanced (and expensive).

If, on the other hand, you’re ready to start nurturing, scoring, and qualifying leads based on their engagement with your brand, marketing automation is worth the investment. In most cases, the decision will depend on the scope of your product offering, the speed of your customer journey, the extent of your content marketing, and the quantity and diversity of your leads.

Act-On Demo_Take a Video Tour
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7 Things You Need to Know About Optimizing for Mobile in 2016 Fri, 23 Sep 2016 10:00:00 +0000 Optimizing for mobile in 2016 means adapting to specific mobile devices and to your own visitors. Learn what to test, what to prioritize, new features, and more.]]>

If you’re like much of the US population, you’re likely to be reading this post on a mobile device, whether you found it through a Google search or it came to you in your email. Here and abroad more users access the internet from mobile devices than ever before. In fact, since 2014, more of us access the internet via mobile than our desktop computers.

The point is: Today, you must make optimizing for mobile traffic a cornerstone of your website strategy.

This image is part of a 2015 Internet Trends report available from KPCB.
This image is part of a 2015 Internet Trends report available from KPCB.

Optimizing a site’s mobile experience involves adapting to specific mobile devices and ensuring a seamless experience through mobile for your visitors. Let’s discuss a few of the important questions you should be asking about optimizing your site for mobile in 2016.

1. Google’s latest announcement about mobile search and what it means to you

On Google’s Webmaster Central blog last month, Google announced their efforts to improve usability on mobile sites and in mobile search. When searching on mobile have you seen “Mobile Friendly” show up in the search results? This will no longer show for most users online, as Google is cleaning up the experience and taking back that valuable real estate.

Google is also looking to “punish” websites that use those annoying full-page pop-up ads. Google’s purpose is to help searchers find the content they’re looking for more easily. “Intrusive interstitials” (those pop-ups that obstruct the view of background content) present a poor experience to users and therefore Google will start to take action. This may involve showing your site lower in rankings, or quite possibly not at all for certain terms. Google made it very clear in this statement:

“After January 10, 2017, pages where content is not easily accessible to a user on the transition from the mobile search results may not rank as highly.”


If you’re currently using a functionality that may be considered “intrusive interstitials” find an alternative for mobile users before January of 2017.

2. I’m not sure how well my website is optimized for mobile. Where do I start?

Start testing! A simple place to start is on your own mobile device. Go ahead, hop on and start browsing. I’m not going to do an exhaustive list of every single problem, but here are a few things to look for, which can give you an idea of how much work may lie ahead.

  • Areas where mobile users might have trouble accessing certain pages, buttons that don’t function or are hidden from view, navigation that doesn’t show or isn’t easily clickable.
  • Elements of the page that overlap such as hero and banner images, copy, headers, logos and other elements.
  • Are images rendering correctly on your pages, or are they pixelated, too small, or otherwise hard to see and understand at a glance?
  • Test videos to ensure they play correctly, are able to be paused or stopped, that the audio can be heard and doesn’t skip or seem inaudible.
  • Review form functionality. Do they submit properly, do they allow autofill, are they easy to fill in, etc.
  • Look at accordions, drop downs, audio plays and other aspects that are involved when a user takes “action.” Do they function properly and are they easy to use?


Tools exist to take your testing much, much farther to help you see how your site is served on the variety of devices that people use, not just the cell phone you happen to have.

Android, Windows and iPhone mobile devices offer vastly different experiences and therefore should be examined to complete a thorough test. Phones use different browsers just as desktops do. Tools will aid in testing the configurations of new phones and older phones, along with the browsers they utilize.

3. What mobile testing tools exist to help test the mobility of my website?

Google offers a free Mobile-Friendly Test, which can help diagnose some issues, but it doesn’t report across specific browsers. Cross-browser testing tools often come with the capabilities of testing on mobile devices and browsers, each offering their own toolsets and associated cost., Browsershots, Browser Sandbox, Browsera and BrowserStack are the best-of-class options ranging from $10-$100+ per month depending on your needs.

Tools will simply show you what the page looks like via mobile. It’s up to your web design team to diagnose the reasons why the page isn’t working. This careful review can take a lot of time and resources.


If you must prioritize, take into consideration data from Google Analytics that will help tell you the most common browsers and mobile devices used to access your site. Tailor your plan to your actual visitors.

4. How should I prioritize the mobile optimization fixes needed on my site?

It depends. The goals of your site and the severity of your mobility issues should be taken into consideration when prioritizing efforts to optimize. Areas of your site that don’t allow conversions to take place should be prioritized over fixing a few misaligned images, for example. A complex development project to fix areas of your site that cannot be clicked should be prioritized over a few misaligned images as well.


Evaluate your site manually and with the tools listed above and start chipping away at any optimization issues.

5. Can I optimize my site for mobile search, as in mobile SEO?

Last year we wrote about this very topic – the nexus where mobile usage and search trends meet – in our article, “Mobile Search Engine Optimization Best Practices.” Mobile best practices for SEO don’t vary too much from the traditional best practices with SEO.

User experience is extremely important, along with page load speed. The slower your site is and the harder it is to navigate and use, the less your site will show up in either mobile and desktop search results. Metadata is important so don’t forget those unique meta titles and descriptions, too. Entice users to click on your search results, and test, test, test!


Consider using Schema structured data and take advantage of that teeny tiny screen. Structured data aids in ratings showing as rich snippets in search results. In the example shown below, you can see reviews, hours, time and so much more.


Visit for more information on the structured data options available for your site. Not sure if you have structured data implemented? Visit Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool available for free to test pages on your site.

Optimizing your site for search engines and mobile is an iterative process, one that can require testing, monitoring and analysis ongoing. Google’s Search Console provides information about your mobile performance such as the number of clicks, impressions and the click-through rate of your mobile search results, as well as the mobility of your site and any issues associated.

Optimizing for mobile search goes beyond just being mobile responsive and really forces you to understand how your users are actually using their mobile devices to engage with your company.

6. What resources exist to help my developer fix mobile issues I uncover?

7. Are there design features I should consider integrating on my site today?

Mobile-specific features are a great addition to your website and can add to the user experience for your visitors.

Design for “Fat Finger.” Designing for fingers that are 44 pixels wide is considered designing for the “Fat Finger.” This will allow the elements on your page to be accessed and clickable by all users. It’s common that mobile design accounts for smaller fingers and therefore some elements of your page may be harder to click and access.

Tap to Call/Click to Call Feature. When a phone number appears on your site, it’s a best practice to allow those numbers to be tapped so users can call directly from the number listed. It is very hard to copy/paste or write down phone numbers while on the go. Make it easier for your customers and enable tap-to-call features on numbers throughout your website.


The process of optimizing your site for mobile is part-and-parcel of a user’s experience online. Today’s connected world has tasked marketers with thinking outside-the-box. As the connected world becomes more mobile, our job as marketers will require us to continue this line of thinking and focus on usability. We hope you can use the topics discussed in our blog post to optimize your online assets for mobile, to achieve more success and work toward the ultimate goal of optimal website usability and user experience.

Act-On eBook: How to Use Mobile Marketing to Generate Leads
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4 Steps to Get Started with Marketing Automation Thu, 22 Sep 2016 10:00:00 +0000 Getting started with marketing automation doesn’t have to be hard. 4 proactive steps to make onboarding marketing automation more organized.]]>

Getting new software up and running can be intimidating. All of that upfront work is daunting, and it can be hard to know whether you’re doing it right. And, frankly, it can burn up a lot of your precious time.

We understand your pain. But when it comes to marketing automation – if you know what to plan for and what to expect, it doesn’t have to be so painful. Let’s walk through the steps so you know what it should take and what your options might be.



What is it you want marketing automation to achieve for you?

Open up your marketing plan (just fyi: if you don’t already have an overall plan and a few processes in place, you’re not ready to automate anything). Take a look at the goals you and your management team have already set; which of them lend themselves to applying automation? Here are three samples of goals people often consider:

The first goal is a soft goal, hard to measure and tough to prove. The second and third are classic SMART goals: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-bound. You might say, for example:

  • I want to get 15% more leads this month, over last month

SMART goals are the best to begin with. They are easier to measure and easier to prove, so you can show your management team exactly what results you’re getting.

The other key point: don’t make new goals. Marketing automation should serve the goals you and your management team have already defined and agreed on.

Start simply. Pick the most important three to five manageable goals and define what you want the outcome to be. It’s useful to break these options down into one of five different categories: attract, capture, nurture, convert, or expand. This will help you see whether you’re balancing your goals out over your customer lifecycle or not.

  • Attract: Do you want more well-qualified potential customers to your website? To reach this goal, you might try improving the SEO on your webpages, or test an advertising program, or try to get more press, or ramp up your social media marketing. These tactics will help you build your brand.
  • Capture: Are you getting web traffic, but your traffic is all anonymous? Maybe your goal would be to get more conversions (a number), or to have traffic convert at a higher rate (a percentage) Try creating really good landing pages that offer something a visitor would be willing to trade their contact information. Offer a webinar they must register for, or a video, or an eBook that speaks to them and their concerns. Make your forms easy to understand and work with, and don’t ask any more information than you have to. Do make it clear that people are opting-in to receive your marketing messages.
  • Nurture: If your average sales cycle is six months, your goal here might be to keep more prospects engaged all the way to the end. Nurture those leads with a variety of great content, and help them keep learning. Once you set up a nurturing program it will run on its own, and scale as much as you need it. You can set up a lead scoring system so that the people who are most interested have things to do that you can score. Then once they reach a certain threshold, they can be automatically handed to sales. (Tip: Have sales help you decide which actions and attributes to score, and how much. They will trust the leads more if they help define them, and usually do a better job of following up.)
  • Convert: This is a goal we all have in common: close more customers! By now your marketing automation system should delivering more, better-educated leads to your sales team for closing. Here’s how marketing automation wins over your sales team: When a sales rep can look into their own Act-On tab and see the activity history for a lead they are about to call. They see every email clicked on, every web page visited, every webinar attended, every eBook downloaded. So they know what that lead cares about, and what to say. Or: your salesperson is working hard to close a particular company. Set alerts so the rep gets notified when a specific person or company visits your website.
  • Expand: Maybe your goal is to keep your customers for three years, not just 18 months. Or maybe your goal is to get your retention rate up by 5%. Send newsletters, hold customer webinars, do surveys. Set up a behavior-based drip campaign to help your customers using your product, platform or service. Stay in touch, and remind your customers how much they like you. Keep your current customers fully engaged.

Whether it’s optimizing a web page’s SEO or setting up a complex automated program, you need to think about the whole scope of your marketing plan, and narrow your goals to what will have the most impact … or to what will get you started the fastest. Or a mix of each.

Make your plan. And then take the next step:

Prepare for the GDPR with this checklist


All marketing automation companies should have people dedicated to helping you use their tools most effectively. Before you commit to a company, make this part of your research. Know what support they offer, for how long, and what happens after it runs out (some companies end free support at 90 days, others do not). Talk to some of the vendor’s customers and ask how onboarding went for them. Check them out on review sites (like G2 Crowd or TrustRadius).

You should have, at a minimum, a planned onboarding and training sessions. Talk to your vendor’s implementation team regularly and ask questions so you’re getting the most out of your product right away. They’re there to help answer questions and help you meet your goals, so don’t be shy.

Hit the ground running, engage your marketing automation implementation team, and start deploying those tactics. Within a few weeks, your programs should be up and running!


Got a CRM? Social media platforms? Analytics tools? You might be looking at marketing automation to begin with to reduce the number of different systems you’re using, or to leverage a tool you already have, or to provide a platform for new tools you’d like to try. There are a lot of options out there.

Integrate your CRM

CRM integration is often a first priority, and for most companies, it should be! If you’re using a CRM, you’ll appreciate the expanded view you get into prospect and customer behavior. The increased data gives both programs extra oomph – and helps foster a solid alignment between your marketing and sales teams. Some integrations are painful; some are just plug-and-play. It all depends on which CRM you’re integrating, your marketing automation vendor’s technology, and your vendor’s integration specialists. This is another capability to check out on review sites or ask existing customers about. Are the two systems known to work well together? Or not so much? Make sure the data sync can be set to run automatically; it’s way too much trouble to do it manually.

Other integrations to consider

One of the best parts of marketing automation is that you can see how a campaign is performing across all of your marketing channels. No more quilting together information about a campaign from a bunch of different information streams. Now you can see how a specific campaign did across all tools in one place. Here are a few examples of what you might choose to include:

  • Webinars: WebEx, On24, GoToWebinar are the most popular. Webinars are a very good way to further your brand’s trustworthiness by sharing your expertise. You also gain contact information through registration forms, and you can cement your relationships with your existing customer base through product and feature webinars. Your marketing automation system makes it really easy to promote your webinars, and to follow up after.
  • Social media: Your marketing platform should make it easy for you to listen and publish on the most popular programs. (If you choose Act-On, our platform will even help you track attributions so you know how well social marketing is working, beyond just likes and shares.)
  • Measure it: Your platform should sync with Google Analytics, Adwords, and your other measurement tools. This will help you understand how your outbound campaigns affect your inbound ones. If you use, or plan to use a business intelligence (BI) tool, make sure your new marketing platform will work with it.

From webinars to a full suite of social media response and measurement tools to cloud integrations, you can start pulling in all of the tools you use now to get a full picture of how your marketing measures up. Point, click, begin.


Most companies get started with email, and then start turning on more features. Throughout this process you’re bound to have questions. Marketing automation software has a multitude of options, programs, and integrations to choose from. How do you know which to use and where to focus? This is another place where your vendor’s implementation specialist should help you go from first steps to a full-out run.

“It’s essential to have help and be able to ask questions or get tips and tricks from an expert” said Dan Demas, Vice President of Customer Success at Act-On, speaking about the Act-On customer community. “Attending lUse Iive, instructor-led training with our experts is essential for new customers who want to make the most out of a marketing automation program. But we also believe that each customer has different preferences when it comes to learning. So we provide as many outlets and formats as possible for getting you the information you need, exactly how you want to consume it.”


So how do you make the most out of your onboarding time? First, make sure you understand the level of support that comes with your marketing automation platform. (At Act-On, we provide whatever support you need to get going and keep growing. It’s part of our service. Our team walks you through programs so you feel comfortable; they’re also there to help when you get a little stuck or even if you want to try something new.)

If your vendor charges for extra time, make sure you do all of your upfront work first and use all of the other resources made available to you. Register for an instructor-led training class; take advantage of customer webinars and videos available through your customer portal. While you’re at it, see if you can ask other customers about their experiences or attend an in-person user group to learn best practices and successes other customers have had within the program.

Know what to expect

Some marketing automation solutions are complex and take months to implement. Others (Act-On, for one), are faster and less trouble. The majority of our customers have several campaigns up and running in less than two weeks, and build additional programs out from there.

Interested in learning a bit more about the benefits of integrating your platforms with marketing automation? Read the full Rethinking the Role of Marketing report from Gleanster and Act-On to learn how Top Performing marketing teams are integrating their technology for more effective marketing and taking full control of the customer lifecycle.

eBook: Marketing Automation Quick Start Guide
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Plan Your Q4 Email Sending Strategy to Beat the Coming Logjam Wed, 21 Sep 2016 10:00:00 +0000 Q4 brings heavy demands on your email programs–and your buyers. Get your Q4 email sending strategy in shape now to optimize your chances for smart success.]]>

Can you believe it? September’s almost done, another year has almost passed us by, and if you are like us – the days just keep getting busier and busier.

With the new year only a little more than a quarter away, it’s important to think about your email strategy going into the last part of 2016. Whether you’re a B2C, B2B, or a B2B2C, you’re hopefully all over your Q4 planning already.

For B2C companies, the holidays are a giant opportunity: the US Census Bureau reported that Q4 2015 saw a 33% rise in ecommerce sales over Q3, followed by a 20% drop in Q1 2016. And according to Statistica:

Q4 is no less important for B2B 

It’s your chance to meet or beat the forecast for this year, and if you made some mistakes and lost ground earlier in the year, maybe you can apply your lessons learned and make it up now. What about your buyers? If you sell to people who have to spend budget by December 31 or lose it for the next year, you’ve got opportunities. If you’ve got people who spent all their 2016 budget and are waiting for 2017 to refresh the kitty, you need to make the sale in Q4 so you can do the contract in Q1.

And don’t overlook your existing customers. They may have year-end funds to spend; can you upsell them? Can you put an attractive, easy-to-buy package together that just extends and deepens your relationship with them?

What this means for your buyer’s email inbox

The upshot? Your buyer, no matter who he or she may be, is going to hear from a great many hopeful sellers. Your buyer’s name may also be circulating on lists that get purchased, meaning your buyer may well get a ton of mail that they didn’t expect and don’t want. They might get a bit more suspicious about unfamiliar email.

You know the competition for inbox placement is going to heat up exponentially in the coming months. That makes it very important that you plan ahead and get your sending in shape for winter.

What this means for you, the sender

With a good sending strategy and best practices, you can tilt the odds that your emails and offers are noticed by your recipients, which in turn can help you lock in crucial end-of-year engagements.

Here are a few tips to help you plan accordingly. Tailor these to your own business for the best results.

1. Segmentation and Engagement

These two factors are already very important in overall delivery, but they become even more important during the holiday send season – as they could spell the difference between a response and a spam placement.

This graphic outlines three tips to improving your Q4 email sending strategy

Engagement is important for a lot of reasons: First, because people who engage with you are responding to you, which means they’re interested or curious, and so more likely buyers than people who just ignore your email. Second, because ISPs are in the business of getting wanted email to recipients and diverting unwanted email, they pay a lot of attention to engagement rates. Strong engagement rates are a boon to your deliverability.

For that reason, if you don’t do any other kind of segmentation, at least segment by engagement. As a baseline (and your mileage may vary), we recommend starting with defining engaged: as anyone who has opened and clicked or interacted with your email in some capacity during the past 180 days. “Unengaged” is vice versa; recipients who ignored you, or may have occasionally opened or responded to an email during the same period.

Even more defined segmentation can only help! Try job title, geographic region, or any sort of applicable area that helps divide your recipients into well-organized, well-differentiated groups. This lets you send messages that feel more personal to the recipient. All this can help drive engagement, which is very important when trying to fight for inbox space at various ISPs. They are keeping a close eye on senders and will throttle or flag them if they see anything remotely suspect.

2. Content

This is one of the key differentiators in holiday sends, as you need to make sure your message sticks out above the rest. Recipients will be getting completely bombarded with all sorts of offers, giveaways, discounts, prizes, and so forth. With so many emails coming in, the recipient is going to be much more discriminating as to what they open. Rather than using the standard, bland “holiday sale” subject lines – try personalization, and cater your subjects and overall messages to the particular recipient (Segmentation by interest or likely purchase can help here). That way they feel like an actual customer or prospect, and not just a cash grab. If you have arresting imagery that is really specific to your product or service, make the most of it (More on using images in your email).

Keep your calls to action “above the fold;” this helps guide the recipient to an action. If they have to search your email for it, or scroll all the way to the bottom, you many lose out on a potential click.

Keep your emails simple; too much text or too many images can not only be distracting to the recipient, but can trigger ISP spam filters that may affect inbox placement.

Keep in mind: the goal is to make your email stick out from the clutter, so be creative and inventive when coming up with content! Keep it relevant to the season and your product offerings, but try new things to help your brand achieve your goals!

3. Tailor Your Sending Strategies to Your Recipients

Once you’ve created your segments and content, it’s time to think about your send strategies.

It’s vital to send your emails at the right time and using the right cadence to get your offers out there, but not overwhelm the recipient with too much information and/or too many emails.

During the holiday season, many (if not most) of us tend to increase volume and frequency by a large amount. However, this can be more detrimental than successful. More sends do not always equal more engagement, and if your recipient is weary of their total volume of email (from all sources, not just you) it can have the opposite effect.

Make it easy to opt out

When the aggregate amount of mail coming in hits a personal high-water mark, a recipient can be more inclined to report messages as spam – especially if an opt-out (also called an unsubscribe) option is not easily visible or accessible.

Keep in mind, opt-outs won’t affect delivery, but spam complaints can harm your reputation and therefore make it harder to reach the inbox during crucial sending periods.

Watch cadence

Additionally, make sure the volume and cadence of your emails do not vary too much during the holiday sending season. A recommended send schedule would be 2-3 times per week at consistent volumes. Some slight variations in volume are ok, but stay away from following up small sends with large sends, and vice versa. The more consistent you are, the better your chances of successful delivery, placement, and potential engagement with your customers and/or prospects.

A final note: Get help if you need it

Now is the time to start planning for the holidays – a head start on the competition can be crucial for getting your messages out there and into the hands of those recipients that are most important to your business. If you just can’t get to it, consider bringing in an agency or consultant (or, ahem, Act-On Pro Services) to help you rethink how to make the most of your Q4 opportunities.

eBook: Best Practices in Email Deliverability
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Your Audience Called. They Say You’re Fired. Tue, 20 Sep 2016 10:00:00 +0000 Blog posts, videos or other, too many companies still treat content like promotional advertising. Learn why that’s a very bad idea; what to do instead.]]>

“You will get all you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want.”

– Zig Ziglar

Sounds like a nice philosophy, right? But is it a business strategy?

Yes. According to some, it’s not even a business strategy anymore. It’s a business requirement.

Here’s how Joe Pulizzi frames this idea for content marketers, specifically “content marketing non-believers”:

“Your customers don’t care about you, your products, your services…they care about themselves, their wants and their needs.  Content marketing is about creating interesting information your customers are passionate about so they actually pay attention to you.”

That’s all true, and it points to an excellent ideal. But when the rubber meets the road – when you are creating and scheduling the content you’ll create ­– most marketers are keenly aware of their business objectives, too. Often there is a real push and pull between what your audience wants you to publish, and what you (or your boss, or your boss’s boss) want to publish.

Unfortunately, sometimes the business priorities don’t just come first – they all but drown out the audience’s priorities. That’s a disappointment to your audience (and could feel like a veiled diss from their point of view). There’s a disconnect when we say “our customers are our #1 priority”, but then publish content that’s not much more than an advertisement.

Our audiences don’t need advertisements. They need help. They need inspiration – maybe even a laugh now and then. We need to be entertaining them and educating them in the same breath.

“Need” is the right word here. This airy stuff about entertaining and educating our audiences isn’t just lofty marketing pep talk.

These people don’t have to listen to us. Our audiences aren’t captive.

The challenge isn’t just that our audiences are free to bail at any moment. It’s also that there is no shortage of content available – great content, maybe even fabulous content. In fact, there’s more content available than any of us could possibly consume, even if we narrowed our focus down to the niche-iest niche.

As this graphic shows, more content is being created than your audience can consume. The way to win their attention is to deliver helpful content.
From Mark Schaefer’s landmark blog post about “content shock” – the idea that content marketing will become less effective as more and more content is published.


Even if there are still a few gaps in all that content, our audiences are already maxed out. They’re pummeled with information from every other corner of their lives. You might be selling widgets, and you worry about whether they’re reading your widget white paper or your competitor’s. But they have more to think about than just widgets; they have 20 other aspects of their business to juggle, and each comes with its own panoply of media to be consumed. And they have lives: their Twitter feeds are often a mix of business and personal. Webinar invites are happening when they could be having coffee with a dear friend. In-person events could mean that they’ll miss an internal focus group with the CEO. Or their kids’ soccer practice.

These peoples’ attention is precious. And it cannot be bought. So when we serve our business needs too heavily in our content – to the suppression of our audience’s needs – they start to disconnect.

This disconnect is happening a lot. Engagement rates are falling – and not just on social media. In part, perhaps, because the audience’s needs aren’t being met well enough by the content many firms are publishing. When that happens, they naturally disconnect.

Over time, they opt out.

That’s an audience member’s version of firing us. If enough of them opt-out (or “emotionally unsubscribe” as some email marketers put it), then you’ve got a deeper problem: Lots of content your audience doesn’t care for, and too often company-focused.

“Fool me once”

There’s another hidden risk to content that doesn’t serve your audience. It can actually train them to ignore you.

Here’s how it happens: You have a busy publishing schedule to keep up with. So you keep pushing out content, piece after piece, chasing that little “just-published” spike in traffic and shares. The content looks okay on the surface, but it’s kinda disappointing once consumed.

In an experience similar to “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” your audience will peek at your content a few times, find it lacking, and move on – remembering that you disappointed them. Do this a lot, over time, and you’ll have literally trained them to distrust you. You’ll have taught them to ignore you.

An example of content that celebrates the company and ignores the audience

I got a webinar invite yesterday for a full 30-minute webinar that was an interview with the company’s CEO. A kind of “get to know you” sort of thing.

There was no new product or feature. There was no talk of customers. It was just the CEO talking about his views of the company.

Now don’t get me wrong – I bet this CEO is a fun, interesting guy. Most CEOs are. And I bet this webinar is interesting for employees of the company, and perhaps media and industry analysts. But that’s not a compelling enough reason for this company’s prospects to want to get on this webinar.

This company’s customer and prospect audience is made up of busy people with more pressing things to do. And unfortunately, launching a webinar about getting to know the CEO comes off as self-serving to a customer audience. Picking a topic like that sends a great big billboard of a message to your audience: This company still thinks it’s all about them.

The company may not have intended this. I bet they didn’t. I bet they wanted to do something entertaining and outside the typical white paper and blog post format. That’s a great instinct. But… I think they might have done better if their content team had kept brainstorming, even after the awesome CEO-webinar idea came up. Or maybe it was the right content for a very specific target audience, and that’s where the disconnect happened. The point is, it was a major disconnect, and you can’t afford too many of those.

Too many of us do too many of those disconnects, too often.

It’s all about them

If we want to get and keep the attention of our audiences, it has to be all about them. It’s about their experience with our content – what they want to know, when they want to know it, and how they want to learn it or “consume” it.

Your business needs have to take a back seat. Because if they don’t… your audience is going to increasingly tune you out. And then you’ll get the miserable engagement rates we’ve been hearing about. Then all the money you put into that self-serving content will be wasted. Because people won’t be paying any more attention to it than if it was advertising.

Because it basically is advertising.

This is a bit of an evolution in how we’ve been talking about balancing audience needs with business needs. Many of us have been working on sort of a “compromise model.” We’re trying to publish things that benefit both our audience and ourselves.

That’s not a bad thing – it can work well, and it is working well for many companies.

But what I’m suggesting takes this further. It’s an audience-first approach that’s closer to what Joe Pulizzi was talking about earlier.

This diagram reflects the differences between the compromise and audience-first approach when creating content.

Now what?

We’re still in business here, right? At some point, there’s got to be some business pitched, right?

Right. But the business pitch (if you’d even call it that) needs to take a back seat.

One of the assumptions of realistic, best-in-class content marketing programs is that most of your audience is not ready to buy from you at any given moment. They’re not out shopping for what they need – even when they’re reading or viewing your content.

All the work you do to attract their attention is not to force them into your sales funnel. It’s to build up a rapport with them – to get them to know, like and trust you, so when they do need what you sell, they’ll think of you first. (Hat tip to Rand Fishkin, in one of his Whiteboard Friday videos, for this idea).

This idea is fairly easy to understand, but it seems like it’s darn near excruciating for some businesses. There’s such an urgent need for more leads, more sales, more revenue, that it’s almost impossible to embrace such a slow-sell, soft-sell approach. (Though you can still serve your business interests with “audience-first” content. Just make your call to actions softer, like signing up for your emails, following you on social, or viewing other content.)

Case studies are an example. An effective case study does make the sponsoring company look good, but that’s not its value to the reader. Its real value for the reader comes when it shows a person with a business problem – just like the one the reader grapples with – and how they solved that problem. If the content helps the reader, then the sponsoring company looks helpful, and a link to a related page on the website makes sense for the reader who wants a deeper look into this solution. But without that component of reader self-interest, the case study has no value to the reader, and won’t get read. And then it’s not a good case study, it’s a waste of your expensive resources.

Because of the pressure, a lot of companies push their content marketing toward being more like advertising. And then it doesn’t work.

Their audiences fire them, because people are sensitive to sales pitches. Just one misplaced, out-of-tune sales pitch can color how a prospect hears what you say. It can turn you from a trusted authority into a biased infomercial. And no one volunteers to hear that.

The volunteering part of this is especially important. Unlike advertising audiences, content marketing audiences are not held hostage. They don’t have to follow us, or listen to us, or even know who we are.

Even if they have liked your content in the past, they can unsubscribe or unfollow in a click or two. They can fire us at any time. That’s why their needs should get served first.

They want to like you

If all this sounds daunting, take heart. Despite how busy and distracted our audiences are, they still have two precious attributes: Curiosity, and faith. They will still check something out that looks interesting or helpful. They believe there’s good stuff all over the web (and there is). They’re always on the lookout for good content. They want to find what we want to give them.

Here’s another way to explain this. A long time ago, I was getting ready for a big interview and I was nervous as all… heck. On my way out the door, my roommate told me, “They want to like you.”

Our audiences want to like us. They want to trust us and rely on us as the first point of information. We just need to step up.

eBook_The Perfect Recipe for Creating Killer Marketing Content
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Inbound Marketing or Outbound? Which is the Winner? Mon, 19 Sep 2016 10:00:00 +0000 Learn how to map the five stages of your buyer’s journey and use both outbound and inbound marketing tactics to realize success.]]>

The marketing industry has been buzzing about the rise of inbound marketing and the decline of outbound marketing over the last several years. With the rise of internet-empowered buyers, inbound marketing has helped vendors take control of the initial pieces of the buyer’s journey. But are marketing teams really migrating away from outbound marketing? According to a 2016 Demand Metric survey, the answer is a resounding no.

The report found that 84% of marketers agree that both inbound and outbound marketing drives business. The report also found that inbound and outbound marketing account for nearly equal amounts of leads, budget share, and revenue. Top performers are choosing to use a balanced approach that incorporates both inbound and outbound marketing.

Modern Definitions of Inbound and Outbound Marketing

Inbound marketing (as practiced with new online capabilities) is still a relatively new concept, but the definition of outbound has evolved in recent years. At its core, inbound marketing is really about getting your customers to come to you.

Inbound is commonly referred to as a pull strategy because you are using tactics and great content to pull the attention of your prospects to your brand. Advertising did this in the old days, but digital marketing has changed the game a thousand-fold, creating a much lower barrier to entry and leveling the playing field.

Outbound can be classified as push marketing; you proactively push content to those you consider to be potential buyers, or to existing customers. You can control the message and timing.

That same new modern technology that has made today’s inbound marketing possible has also changed outbound. It gathers, distills, and provides access to behavioral data, and makes it possible to automate the delivery of personalized marketing messages, saving a ton of time and effort. This has changed the way marketers plan and deploy outbound campaigns.

Historical Definition of Outbound

Tactics used to push your marketing message to mass audiences, in hopes of reaching potential customers or prospects. Think direct mail: all those postcards and catalogs piling up in your physical mailbox. Think billboards, placed where travellers and commuters might see them at the most advantageous time. Think radio: you’re in your car on the way to work, at a stoplight, looking at a billboard, when an ad for the same product comes on the radio.

Modern Definition of Outbound

Speaking of online outbound, it started out focused on email, and it used to be “batch and blast.” Today, it’s all about learning about your prospects and what they want so you can develop personas that represent them accurately. Now we market to personas, pushing timely, relevant messaging and content that addresses their pain points and interests. We’re building relationships, one automated touchpoint at a time, to educate the buyer, build trust, and stay top-of-mind in the decision making process.

A Balanced Strategy is A Winning Strategy

According to the Demand Metric study, most marketers use a healthy mix of both tactics. On the inbound side, social media, SEO, and blogging have become important pillars. On the outbound side, marketers are investing heavily in email, events, PR, and even direct mail.

In a nutshell: you don’t have to (and shouldn’t) choose between inbound and outbound. The two are, in fact, better together.

Today’s marketers are using a balanced combination of inbound and outbound programs across the buyer’s journey to win big. The object of the modern marketing game is to build a twin-engine marketing machine that builds brand, drives demand, and expands customer relationships.

Build an Ecosystem for Conversation & Relationship Building

Creating a balanced marketing strategy is no different than a conversation with a friend over coffee. In order for it to work, both sides must contribute. You have to be accessible, listen when it’s time to listen, and speak up when you have something valuable to say.

The trick to creating a well-balanced marketing strategy is to map out the five stages of your customer journey, and ensure that you’re prepared for a two-way conversation at each stage.

buyers journey

At every stage of the customer journey, make sure that you:

  1. Actively reach out to prospects to give them the information they need to progress to the next step
  1. Make it easy for people to find the same information on their own

How Inbound Marketing Made Us Better Outbound Marketers

The rise of inbound marketing requires marketers to do three important things:

1. Map out their buyer’s journey

This includes understanding the different stages your buyer will go through, and what exactly they are looking for at each stage. B2B sales cycles can be long and complex, mapping out your buyer’s journey will allow you to more easily deliver targeted, relevant content to your prospects and customers.

2. Develop a deep understanding of their buyer personas

Developing your buyer personas takes a little bit of legwork, but the results can be outstanding. Segmenting your buyers by persona allows you to deliver a more personalized experience to them. To help you create buyer personas without fuss, we’ve put together this toolkit for you.

3. Create content that helps educate and engage these buyers

Lots of people can create content. But an effective content marketing strategy is focused on creating content that is engaging enough that it entices buyers to convert. Not only does the content have to be valuable to your audience, but it also has to be interesting and engaging. Check out our blog post on creating content that converts.

These tactics have now become standard practice in most marketing teams. Every content marketer is now a professor and every brand is now a publishing house.

And guess what? Outbound marketing programs are the unintended beneficiary of these new content best practices, here’s how:

  • Marketers now have libraries of engaging content designed to attract the right audiences early on the purchase journey.
  • These content libraries can fuel outbound marketing programs and enrich audience interactions with “push”
  • These outbound campaigns leverage targeted content that is meant to build trust before pushing for a sale. For example, a sales rep can send an outbound email suggesting a prospect read a new blog post about a hot industry topic, or an outbound advertisement can offer up an educational eBook instead of extolling the benefits of product features.

Technology + Good Content = Killer Inbound and Outbound Programs

The addition of inbound marketing to the mix has brought balance to our collective marketing brain. We understand the buying process more holistically, we give more power and control to our prospects, and we publish timely content that’s meant to address buyer pain points and interests. But inbound alone is not enough.

The outbound side of the marketing conversation is still equally important. New technology and the rise of content marketing has made outbound marketing more effective, and more productive for both buyers and sellers.

Not sure if you’re strategy is balanced? Here’s where you should start: Check out this interactive assessment to see if your marketing efforts are balanced across inbound and outbound tactics.

eBook: Inbound Marketing Effectiveness Report
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7 Ways to Create More Interesting Content for Your Blog Fri, 16 Sep 2016 10:00:00 +0000 Are you tired of recycling the same old concepts in your blog? Here are tactics for recreating more interesting content – that’s still on target.]]>

Creating engaging, interesting content is a top priority for marketers, yet only 30 percent say they are effective at it. And one of the most reader-friendly, popular types of content is blog posts. Coming up with topics that engage, excite and entice readers to come back for more is difficult — but the payoffs are worth it.

Marketers who produce blog content are landing 67 percent more leads for their organizations than those who don’t. And with so many additional leads, it’s a safe assumption that it’s positively impacting the bottom line. But creating effective content can be hard, and coming up with the ideas that will delight and build loyalty with your readers can be even harder. Here are seven strategies for generating more engaging and effective content.

1. Old topic … new spin

Feel like you’re covering the same old, tired topics? If so, you aren’t alone. Some topics are so important to your target audience that it makes sense to cover them again. It’s often the case that new entrants are entering our target audiences constantly; and what is an old-hat topic to you is possibly a hot new interest for a cadre of people eager to read your expert advice.

You can revive topics that are old to you by putting on a totally new spin. For example, the phrase “content is king” has been on the radar at least since 2004, according to Google Trends, and most of us were sick of it by 2005.


Derek Halpern of Social Triggers took a contrarian tack, writing “The ‘Content is King Myth’ Debunked.” His article wasn’t saying that content isn’t important, but he argued that other elements (mainly design) deserve some attention too.

As this screenshot from the website Social Trigger illustrates, you can create interesting content by taking a contrarian view on past blog topics.

The blog post captured large amounts of attention and generated high engagement, with 248 comments.

Key takeaway. Piggyback on conversations that are already happening in your space, and consider taking an opposite position. In this example, a new spin captured attention.

2. Leverage FAQs into informative posts

Talk to any person serving on the front line and you’ll find that not only do your customers have questions relating to your products – they have lots of them.

Once you talk to your people and discover these questions, you can create blog content that is truly valuable and helpful to your customers and your potential customers.

You can apply the same process – discovery of what people really care about – to other issues you can create content around. But how do you uncover the hottest topics? Here are a few ideas:

  • Check out LinkedIn groups. Which LinkedIn groups does your target audience belong to? Find out, and start listening to their conversations. What questions are they asking? And equally important, when they ask the questions, what are the levels of engagement? If they are capturing lots of replies, there’s likely enough interest to warrant a blog post.
  • Use Twitter to check out what’s trending. Target hashtags that are of highest interest to your target market, and follow those conversations to look for themes. For example, for content marketing, you might check out #contentmarketing. Experiment with several versions of a popular hashtag so you can see what might be overexposed or underexposed.
  • Check out specialized forums. For example, maybe your target audience is CIOs of midsize-to-large enterprises. Or people in a certain industry. Are there any specialized forums where they spend time? If so, start listening to discover what questions and pain points are most important to them.

Key takeaway. Be curious. Look for common headaches you can address and questions you can answer to provide useful, tactical content that your audience can start using right now.

3. Use “best of” lists

Publishing these lists gives your audience ideas about what others are doing and how to apply successes to their business. For example, KoMarketing Associates published the 12 Examples of B2B Companies Managing Impactful Twitter Profiles.

As illustrated in this blog post from KOMarketing using lists gives your audience ideas about what others are doing and how to apply successes to their business.

During this post, they highlight 12 B2B brands including players such as Intel, Cisco, and Forrester that are rocking the Twitter space. But why does this make great content?

Let’s assume their target audience is B2B marketers. Sharing best practices builds authority and provides useful content, which builds trust.

Another spin on this type of post is to highlight influencers in your space. For example, Jay Baer of Convince and Convert published “88 marketers you should follow on Twitter.”


There’s extra value in this kind of post. Once you publish a list like this, it will give value to your target audience, but remember those influencers you included? They may share your post, which greatly expands your reach and adds a bit of gravitas.

Key takeaway. Use list posts to build authority in your niche and give your audience valuable content they love.

4. Deliver content that engages

Sixty-five percent of people are visual learners, so when you add visual elements to your blog posts, the posts are instantly more engaging. For example, Post Planner published “Here’s a Quick Way to Get More Likes on Your Facebook Page.”


They created an infographic that recaps the content and includes 14 ways to boost visibility and inspire viral sharing on Facebook. Visual learners can view information at a glance — and it’s simple to share.

Key takeaway. Don’t limit yourself to telling … show and tell whenever you can.

5. Keep it simple

In our context of business communication, great content is focused on a topic, to the point, and simple. Check out this article published on LinkedIn titled “Four business rules I learnt in Kindergarten.” The article covers super basic elements (sharing, playing, curiosity, and sticking together) and then applies these principles to a topic the author’s audience cares about.


This post was very popular, capturing 1,498 thumbs-ups, very engaging, with 466 comments.

Key takeaway. Strive for simplicity instead of complexity in your blog posts.

6. Create checklists

Identify one pain point that is critical to your target audience, and create a checklist for success. For example, the Content Marketing Institute published “The Blog Post Checklist for Cranking Your Search Ranking.” They know that their audience wants to create blog content that gets results. The blog post includes a 21-point SEO blog post checklist.


Engagement with the piece was excellent, with over 500 LinkedIn shares. And here’s the best part: If your audience truly believes that the content is valuable, they’ll save it for future use. They might bookmark it, so you’re potentially building repeat traffic.

When creating a resource like this, don’t forget to include “suggested reading” to move readers through other types of content on your site. See below how the Content Marketing Institute does this with their “handpicked, related content.”


Key takeaway. Find a key task that your target audience is struggling with, and create a checklist that highlights the steps necessary for success.

7. Collect resources

Collecting valuable resources puts a spin on checklists. For example, check out this post from the SmartBlogger: “63 Blogging Tools That Will Make You Insanely Productive.”


The post segments into three different categories for three different personas (the minimalist, the serious blogger, and the entrepreneur blogger) and then offers specific resources for each, with some categories further segmented by company size. The post generated a lot of excitement and received 154 comments.

Key takeaway. Select a problem, such as “productivity.” Then, in a blog post, compile the most useful resources that help solve that problem.

Creating lasting relationships

Blogging is all about relationships. And as the pseudo-compassionate breakup line says, “It’s not about you; it’s about me.” Your content should be all about the reader. If you focus on readers and their needs, you’ll earn loyalty, respect, and greater long-term success. So take those unexpected twists and turns, listen to customer conversations, and create more content your audience will love.

Do you have some tips you’re willing to share about how you find great blog content topics? Please share below.

eBook_The Perfect Recipe for Creating Killer Marketing Content
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Digital Marketing Agencies – How They’re Changing Thu, 15 Sep 2016 10:00:00 +0000 Today’s digital marketing agency has many challenges: more empowered clients, a changing workforce, MarTech automation. How one agency is managing change.]]>
Rethink Podcasts: A Digital Marketing Agency – How They’re Changing with Kent Lewis of Anvil Media

In this episode of the Rethink Podcast, we interview Kent Lewis, the president and founder of Anvil Media, a Portland-based digital marketing agency specializing in analytics, search engine and social media marketing.

I first met Kent about six years ago, after I got laid off from an electric vehicle startup. I was referred to him because he was connected to most everyone in Portland, and because he was a thought leader in the digital marketing/SEO space. I was also warned he didn’t really like MBAs (I was a recent graduate). We met in the same office as we would six years later for our podcast interview, and he basically gave me the roadmap for my professional career for the next five years.

Besides working for, getting fired from, founding or cofounding 10 agencies, Kent was also part of the group that founded the Search Engine Marketers of Portland (SEMpdx), where we both served as board members; and he is also the founder of pdxMindshare, a Portland-based networking group.

We sat down to have a conversation about digital marketing agencies, how they have evolved, how technology is changing them (good and bad), and how to manage and build a great team.

In this Episode:

  • How digital agencies have changed over last 5-10 years
  • How to keep your clients
  • How to manage creative brain drain
  • How to build a great team
  • How will tech change agencies, good and bad

Favorite Quotes:

This transcript has been edited for length. To get the full measure, listen to the podcast.


Can you tell me a little bit about who you are and about Anvil Media?


Sure. My first foray in digital was in 1996 when I optimized my first client website. And I’ve been building digital marketing teams since then. I’ve been at nine agencies, co-founded two, founded two, fired from two, and decided I better do my own thing. Anvil’s 16 years old, with 40+ clients. We’ve worked with Fortune 500’s down to Ma & Pa startups around the corner. We enjoy just helping move businesses forward.

As a measurable marketing agency we’ve focused on marketing initiatives that we can control, measure and demonstrate success. It doesn’t mean we don’t offer full service marketing capabilities; we just tend to focus on what we know best, and that tends to be around paid and organic search, paid and organic social, and a layer of analytics on top of that.

The Recent Evolution of Agencies


How have agencies changed in the last 15 years?


So I’d say in the last 15 – the Mad Men days are long gone – full-service agencies have compressed, retuned and pivoted as full service with digital being a core component. Wieden Kennedy tried for years to have digital arms, and finally in less than last 10 years have shown that they truly have enough digital DNA now to be effective for the clients. But it did not come naturally, and took many, many years.

What’s gone is back in the Mad Men days, the agencies lived on the media commissions, the 15 percent, plus they marked everything up, all the supplies another 15 percent, and they had agency billings for time. There were three ways to make money.

Clients have gotten a lot smarter. They’re saying, Okay, pick one of those. So markups have gone closer to zero on third-party expenses. Or maybe they maintain that, but at the expense of the billable hour. You either take a percentage of media as your fee, or you take a fee, but you rarely get both, or both are compressed. Clients have in my experience far more sophistication and much higher expectations.

The last 15 years, sure. The last five, it’s been a curve like this. They can read the same publications, they go to the same conferences now, and they’re hiring away from agencies to build in house teams.

The need for agencies is always going to be there because somebody needs to stay up on this stuff and be an advocate. And I found the most successful mix for the digital marketing agency and the company that wants growth is that our client contact is our advocate, and they block and tackle, and they let us do our thing. We help them look good. It’s a true partnership and a collaboration.

But it doesn’t mean the expectation isn’t higher. The budgets are tighter. The accountability is there. I love having savvier clients, but I still see that we each have our place. And theirs is to be absolute knowledgeable experts on their product and their brand, and we are the amplifier.

This is a picture of an anvil in the offices of Anvil Media, a digital marketing agency in Portland, Ore.
When your business is called Anvil Media, I guess you need to have an anvil in your office.

Client Retention – Best Practices


It seems there’s this expectation that you always have to be winning the client over again. In a digital marketing world, you can show some immediate gains pretty quickly. But then the honeymoon’s over. Can you address that as an agency?


That is the hardest part. And I will say we have clients, like we have a university that’s going on a 10-year relationship with us, and that is a great example of when it works really well. There’s a degree of mutual trust and respect. They give us the leeway to test new things, but it doesn’t mean we are not absolutely accountable for the bread and butter, tackling the fundamentals. In this entire 10-year period, it’s been a month-to-month relationship. Either side can give a 30-day notice. And for our 40 some odd clients, 38 of them have that contract in place. The other exceptions would be some sort of weird contract where they want a longer term or it’s specifically limited minimum term and then it’s done, whatever the case is, that’s an exception.

And the way I look at it, the way we keep our relationship fresh with our clients is by having to earn their business every day, every month, to keep them on board. And we do that with pretty much all of our clients. So that forces us to be thinking fresh, be in our client’s seat, and figure out what it takes for them to be successful. We will support that.

The other thing is to have quarterly strategic planning instead of annual. In the world of digital it moves far too fast. So we like to look at even with SEO we have a cyclical approach, we analyze different aspects of SEO each month and then rotate and start over each quarter, so we can manage a smaller budget more effectively, but still go deep and stay broad. I think that methodology will continue to increase.

And the last part is just the competition. Anvil was one of the first in Portland. And then we were one of the best if not the best. Then we were an also ran. All of a sudden in the last 15 years all of that happened. So I’ve rebuilt this company completely in the last three to four years to maintain relevance.

Some of the awards and certifications at Anvil Media.
Some of the awards and certifications at Anvil Media.

One of the things that we do is we used to not care about competitors. There are arguments in different business books whether you absolutely ignore your competitors, do your own thing; or you watch them like a hawk, and look for opportunities. What I’ve noticed is they’ve all been paying close attention to us and they look at all our stuff. So we’re just more guarded about who we work with and what we’re doing.

Creative Brain Drain – How to Manage It


One of the things I’ve seen with agencies after you’ve trained them, your rising stars leave to start their own agencies. How do you manage that?


With the millennial generation, the research shows that they see their employer as an extended parent, which means while they selectively may do what they’re told or not, they expect a certain level of support and appreciation and that unconditional love. They want it all and they want it now. That’s a real challenge to manage. I feel like the team we have now at Anvil is amazing. They may be millennials, but they don’t have necessarily the downside of the millennial mindset. They’re here to produce and they expect to be taken care of as producers, not as non-producers.

Yes, stars are not all entrepreneurs. And my goal has been to create intrapreneurs or hire intrapreneurs. So they want to innovate within Anvil. My theory is that Anvil could be the last place you choose to work. For the first three jobs I had, I assumed that was where I was going to retire. My grandfather, the day he graduated UW, he went to work for Boeing, and then he retired, and he never had any other job. My dad had two main jobs as an architect, two major employers for 20 years each, and that was it. And my mom was shifty at five years per job in the nonprofit space. Unheard of turnover back then in the 1980s and ’90s.

So for me, having technically 10 jobs in 11 years was ludicrous. Except, with the dot com boom, that was absolutely acceptable. It’s not completely unacceptable today, although when I see a resume with people that don’t have a job more than a year multiple times, I probably won’t hire them. It’s not always their fault. You try to understand the flow.

I even wrote an article recently on how to leave a job. Because I feel that a lot of millennials don’t know how to leave a job. We’ve had a much more stable employee base the last six to nine months, and we’ve had people leave much more productively. But three years previously it was rough. They’re cool with just blowing up their relationships. And in a size of a town like Portland, that’s a very dangerous thing. If you’re in New York, Chicago, LA, San Francisco, yeah, no problem, even Seattle, you can light bombs and go. But that stuff catches up.

I expect, if I hire the right people, if I can keep a meaningful percentage of them happy here, that’s a win. And the others that move on, I expect them to do better things. The cost of developing an employee with an average tenure of 18 months is not cost effective, nor is it sustainable for any business. There are people in my space that are totally cool with it. They’re like, that’s just the cost of business. Well, each employee costs you 5x when they leave for a mishire. I’m not in that business. I can’t afford it with the margins we have. I’m trying to find the right people that’ll stay for 3- to 5-year mark instead of 18 months. So far it’s been quite a bit better.

Building Your Ideal Team


You wrote about how you were inspired by The Boys in the Boat, and developing this idea of swing, and finding that swing within your organization as a business, and that pieces of that have expanded into Anvil University. Can you talk about that?

Anvil Media team members in their portland office.
Team members at Anvil Media in Portland, Ore.


You touched on Anvil University and I’m proud to say that name came out of a former employee reviewing the company saying that the first three months of their time at Anvil had been the best and worst three months of their time at Anvil. It was the hardest, it was the boot camp, but it was the most rewarding because it was the deepest learning cycle, the most challenging, the most exciting.

The other aspect, the swing, came to me because if you haven’t read Boys in the Boat, it’s like Unbroken meets Seabiscuit. I’m from Seattle, my parents and grandparents all went to UW, and even knew some of the key folks in the book. And the idea, if you’ve read Jim Collins, Good to Great is all about being on the right seat on the bus. And that metaphor is beyond broken to me because it’s absolutely passive. I’m going to get on a bus and it’s going take me wherever. I hope it’s where I wanted to go. I was told that’s where we’re going, but you have no active role in the guidance, direction and speed.

The idea of Boys in the Boat, I instantly realized, is about the swing of that moment of perfect harmony and bliss; of everybody working together going in the same direction. I was like that needs to happen in business. That’s how the ’36 Olympic team won the gold, hitting the swing more than any other team in history.

I wanted to see could if it be done in business. We’ve created a lot of structure and process. It’s the people, it’s the process, it’s the tools.

It’s been fun to build that into the structure over the last year. But the swing is something that’s never achieved, like in the boat. We feel moments of it. And the goal is to feel more of those moments. It’s built in the fabric at Anvil now. We talk about it at our staff meetings, Any good examples of The Swing? It could be as little as how to turn an email, into a blog post, into an article, into a presentation, into a retirement plan, through a movie option or something; to bigger moves on how we integrate our clients and our teams.

I suggest you read it, those of you who haven’t, and see if it can apply to your business or the way, even the way you live and work. Just creating more efficiency with more intention.

How Will Technology Change Agencies?


Let’s spend the last few minutes chatting about technology, and how will technology change, for good or bad, the work of agencies, and how you can use it.


Well, in terms of the agency side and the evolution with client side is there will be a constant increasing trend of clients attempting to and becoming more successful in building teams in-house, which forces the agencies to move into more of a consulting role. The agencies that are high-production focused will have to shift and pivot. It’s a race to the bottom in the production side.

In terms of technology, I’ve watched marketing automation and sales automation mature rapidly, in terms of adoption and client sophistication, in the last three years. Four years ago, we decided to double down on sales and marketing automation. We’ve been working with Act-On for five or six years as our marketing automation platform.

There are also technologies that are the undoing for agencies, and the new opportunities for them. Ad blocking is a good example. Half our team uses ad blockers, the other half don’t intentionally so they can see the ad experience. And the answer is what I would say is where is the industry going – brands, agencies, advertisers, and the publishers – it’s to native advertising and storytelling.

GoPro, Red Bull have all proven that people love a good story. They love a good photo, they love a good video, they love the backstory, they love experiential. We’ve done some experiential work for a couple different brands. It’s a lot more work. It’s very intensive. But it can, through technology, have a longer lifespan with capturing videos and other experiences that are far more authentic than the standard big production TV commercial.

Brands need to understand, YouTube is their TV channel, iTunes is their radio network, and they need to be creating branded content, or be a part of the conversation much as you guys are doing creating your own programming. I think that’s where it’s going.


Millennials like to discover things on their own. They don’t want to be force fed anything. So creating these brands that are more about empowering the consumer, the customer, to experience it from their point of view, to help create the content, to create the products. There’s going to be happy ground in the middle. But we’re coming from 5 percent. It’s going to move this way to more like a 50 percent uptake in collaboration with the customers, the prospects, to create content and storytelling and products. And social media has really powered a lot of that.


We’ve covered a ton. Thank you very much, I appreciate it. What’s next for Anvil, how does someone learn more about you?


Everything we just talked about, we’ve got a service offering or a way to engage clients to address all of these things. So feel free to check us out at

But I’m a big fan, and I’m not paid to say this, and Nathan can confirm, that I’m a big fan of Act-On, and not just what they’re doing with their product, but what they’re doing with their marketing. Talking to folks like me, bringing in experts to write papers, and for interviews, and for content, that they’re investing their marketing dollars to educate their customers on things that don’t directly – they won’t necessarily directly see a return on. It’s a bold move. And despite that being somewhat de rigueur for the competitors in this space, for being their size I think they do a phenomenal job. So honored to be here.


Thank you very much.

Have a topic you’d like us to Rethink about? Email us: or Tweet us using the #RethinkPodcast hashtag. We’d also appreciate if you subscribe, download and review our podcasts on iTunes, your feedback is important!

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Three Myths and Misconceptions About Email Automation Wed, 14 Sep 2016 10:00:00 +0000 Email automation enables more meaningful relationships with your customers. This post debunks three myths of what it’s not. ]]>

Are you effectively using automation in your email campaigns? An even better question might be – are you even using automation in your email campaigns?

Nowadays the demand for email marketing automation is bigger than ever. If the campaigns you manage lack automation, then it’s only a matter of time before the competition comes around to eat your lunch. In fact, they probably already have, and maybe you’re just now waking up to that fact.

The days of rudimentary batch email blasts are quickly fading away. Be that as it may, there is still a large population of marketers that refuse to step into the world of email automation and triggered emails. Part of that refusal is a misunderstanding of cost vs. benefit, and the other part is simply an inability or unwillingness to invest in the necessary infrastructure. Old habits die hard, I guess.

Hopefully, this article serves to dispel a few email automating myths and help a few of you realize it’s not your choice whether or not to seek out a more robust infrastructure; your customers are demanding it.


When marketers become aware that campaigns are centered on unique individuals (customers) and their behaviors (personalization), the process becomes immediately apparent that a batch and blast approach is insufficient. Automated and behavior-triggered messages are now table stakes for modern businesses. Any attempt to really focus on customer journey mapping will inevitably point to a need for such technology.

Before you take a plunge into the email automating world, however, you might want to clear the air on a few of the following items.

  • Maybe you aren’t ready for it
  • Maybe the status quo will forever keep you away from automation

Either way, here are just a few myths that generally get aired when the boss tells you – Hey, let’s automate our campaigns!

Myth #1: Automation is a time saver


The prevailing sentiment of many email marketing noobs is that an automated campaign exists in order to save you time. Marketing automation does have many time-saving elements, but email campaigns aren’t really chief among them.  Why not? Because if you are new to marketing automation, setting up an automated campaign can take just as much time as a manual campaign setup – probably longer. If you’re doing a complicated nurture program, for example, with lots of branches, you’ll need to think through all the paths your recipients could choose, and the different content you might use for each. On the other hand, the marketer who’s already got deep experience may well find herself saving time, particularly if she’s been running complicated programs by hand or using multiple tools to achieve what an integrated platform can handle in one go.

After all of the testing and personalization settings have decided and automation and triggered responses installed, you still have to oil this abstract robot. Maintenance will be a regular occurrence because content usually runs stale over time. Also, part of managing a campaign means continuously optimizing your approach by weighing out traditional core metrics and paying attention to details such as user feedback and churn rates. You will probably  be making small tweaks all along the way.

One way to manage all this is to get started with simple campaigns. Spend the time up front to really understand how to segment your lists so you can send highly targeted messages to highly likely people. Get into a comfortable groove before building more complicated campaigns. Your email payoff is less likely to be saved time, and more likely to be higher response rates and conversions.

Myth #2: ESP platforms can easily manage every solution

There are many vendor platforms out there promising you the moon, but really they only deliver a wheel of funky cheese. Your goal should be to find a solution that fits your specific needs. Chances are likely you’ll still need to do some coding to create a perfect solution. There are ESPs on the market that make automating email campaigns way more possible to easily execute more than ever before.

What’s most important, I think, is the support side of the platform. Some vendors will simply dump a massive platform on your shoulders and say ‘Good luck!’ A healthy on-boarding process that gives you – the user – the ability to not only ask detailed questions, but to be informed is a must.

Outside of this, setting up an automated campaign can still require significant marketing experience. The need for understanding the movement of things like downstream data integration, attribute tagging, and building out interest category segments is still highly valued and incredibly relevant. These key email marketing skills, and finding talented web developers continue to be some of the leading pain points when implementing an email automation strategy.

Myth #3: Automation will fix bad data

After years of experience sending to purchased lists and targeting stale email addresses, I feel it’s important to echo the need for quality data.

If your list is laden with double opt-in and frequently engaged activists, then more power to you! You’ll get way more out of the email automation experience than everyone else.

But, if your data is imperfect – perhaps your lists are loaded down with dirty data, not validated correctly, or contain a mess of aging undeliverables – then please don’t think automation is your silver bullet. You can’t automate your way out of a filthy dataset, no matter how awesome your strategy might seem.

Simply put, a successful email campaign is a marriage between good strategy and good data.  If either side is poisoned, then the two become divorced.

Final Takeaways

Can email automation help you? My experiences say that messages triggered by behavior and personalized to an individual’s interests often lead to significantly higher engagement.

The difficult task is understanding your data, and building campaigns in a way that can optimize changing variables to your benefit. I’m talking about a combination of things that would play into those triggers like timing, frequency, and persuasive content.

Having a creative approach on how to combine all of these items is what will allow you to build out the user’s journey through your online assets. The culmination of which will predicatively end in more users converting.

Part of the brilliance behind automation is getting people to become interested in something they don’t yet know that they are interested in by identifying the correct signals and then nurturing your messaging in order to drive customer behavior. Things like welcome series distribution, abandoned shopping carts, purchases, a post-service ‘thank you,’ and interested but failed CTAs are all opportunities for reasonable engagement.

buyers journey

The point of automating emails isn’t to improve on the balance of your workload, but rather to build on the quality in which your workload is balanced. Effectively navigating this concept will allow your campaigns to have more meaning and your relationships with your recipients to become more meaningful.

Act-On Demo_Take a Video Tour
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How to Breathe New Life Into Old Content Tue, 13 Sep 2016 10:00:00 +0000 Good content is so hard to create that it’s worth your time to use historical optimization to refresh old bogs and other content to create new value.]]>

How many pieces of content has your company published? I’m talking about every format – blog posts, social media posts, white papers, case studies, eBooks, interviews, podcasts, videos, infographics – the works.

Is it 1,000 pieces of content? 3,000? More?

It’s probably a pretty hefty pile of work. And you’re probably getting at least some results from it. All that content should be generating a steady stream of organic search traffic, more email subscribers, more social media followers, more qualified leads… maybe even a few inbound calls.

But what if it could do more? What if you could refresh some of that old content and get more results from it? Like a lot more.

It’s not uncommon for companies to double the conversion rates on old pages they optimize, or to get 30% to 100% more organic SEO traffic as a result of refreshing and expanding content on a page. This is especially true if you’ve never optimized your older content before.

Content audits versus historical optimization

There’s a term evolving to describe this type of optimization. It’s “historical optimization.” It usually refers to optimizing old blog posts, but the principle could be expanded to other content formats.

While I think this is one of the biggest opportunities for content marketers right now, I can’t help but notice how similar this is to another content marketing best practice: The content audit.

There’s been a lot written about content audits (though maybe not enough). Buffer was the one to really bring it into the spotlight when they published their epic how-to-do-a-content audit post.

The problem with content audits is they can be massive undertakings. An old-school, thorough content audit would traditionally take a team at least a week, and possibly a month. Because that much time investment is almost impossible for many content marketers, it’s not surprising that there’s more talk about “mini-audits” or historical optimization. It all springs from the ideas of:

  • Accessing the performance of existing content
  • Finding content gaps or opportunities in the existing content
  • Refreshing old content
  • Strategically planning new content

Does that sound like sound like a lot of work? It is. But tactics like historical optimization streamline the audit process by a lot. They also tend to create major improvements in existing content performance. And they give you insights into how to create more of the content that results in huge wins.

In other words, yes – it’s a big time and resource investment. And it’s worth every minute and every penny.

This graphic defines historical optimization as when you update older blog posts and other top performing content.

Which content are you going to update?

Here’s the general rule: If any piece of content is over a year old, it needs to be updated.

Taken at face value, following that advice could result in a heck of a lot of work. Optimizing every single piece of content you’ve ever published is a huge task. Much of that work wouldn’t get you the kind of results you want from this, either.

So instead optimizing every piece of old content, consider this: Optimize the top-performing 10%. The question is, which 10% of pages do you go after? What are you optimizing for?

This is obviously hugely important. And answering it is more complex than it might first appear.

Here’s why: After hearing the question, “What are you optimizing for?” most marketers are going to say, leads, or traffic, or revenue generated.

Those are all great answers.

As you know, optimizing for revenue generated is challenging, because tracking ROI (aka “attribution”) for content marketing can be murky. It’s less murky with some of the marketing automation platforms we have now, but it’s still as much art as science.

But optimizing just the pages generating the most leads or revenue would cause you to miss out on some choice opportunities. Optimizing based on just traffic would have the same effect. There are a couple other situations you’ll want to account for:

1. The ‘ole page two to page one SEO optimization trick

Even if we could perfectly track where the business is coming from, we’d still be missing out on one important opportunity with organic traffic. It’s because, in essence, SEO is a winner-take-all game.

What I mean by that is that clicks to the search results aren’t evenly distributed – a page in position 7 doesn’t get anywhere near as many clicks as a page in position 1. This disparity gets even wider when you look at how many clicks the results on page 1 get versus the results on page 2. It’s an old quick-fix SEO trick to

  1. Identify pages that are lingering near the top of page 2,
  2. Optimize them just enough to get them to move up 2-3 positions
  3. Enjoy 2-3 times more traffic (sometimes more) because you’ve moved into the big leagues on page one

That’s a long way of saying that if we optimize only for revenue or leads, we’ll be missing out on this “jump to page 1” SEO trick. And it’s a good trick, well worth using in your “audit” or your “historic optimization” – whichever term you want to use.

2. High traffic pages that aren’t converting well

These are another flavor of missed opportunity for content: Pages that are winning SEO-wise, but that are losers when it comes to conversion rates. The low conversion rates may be coming from a call to action that doesn’t fit with the content or the visitors’ intent well. Or you might have a page that just isn’t delivering on user intent in general. No way to know until you check each page.

3. The high traffic, high bounce rate pages

There’s another thing you’ll miss if you only go after revenue or leads: Pages with high traffic and a high bounce rate. These are pages that are getting attention from inbound traffic sources, but when people actually view the page, they tend to pogo stick back.

You may need to do a bit of analysis. If you have a killer page that answers one question so well that the reader is totally satisfied and leaves your site, that’s technically a bounce, but it’s not necessarily a bad page. Google cannot tell how long a session lasts on a one-page visit, so pay no mind to “session duration.”

It’s a major missed opportunity. You’re getting what should be valuable traffic, but those pages are not delivering the value back to you.

How to choose which pages you’ll optimize

Let’s face it: resources are limited. There’s a limit to how many pages your team can optimize. Maybe 40 pages is the most your team can commit to updating this quarter.

With that 40-page limit, you could pick

  • the 10 best-performing pages for revenue or leads
  • the 10 pages most likely to make the jump from page 2 of the search results to page 1
  • the 10 pages with high traffic and a high bounce rate
  • the 10 pages with high traffic and low conversion rates

That splits your resources across the ten pages “most likely to succeed” across the four situations. Alas, for smaller teams, even 40 pages may be an unmanageable amount of work. If that’s you, then consider paring down to five pages for each category.

You’re kind of hedging your bets here, but because you’ve selected only the very top pages for each strategy, you’re almost certainly going to see enough improvements from your work for a positive ROI.

Of course, you can also mix this up. For example, you decide to go after the top 40 pages for leads and revenue. The high traffic high bounce pages can wait. So can the low-converting pages and the pages lingering near the top of page two in the search results. It’s entirely up to you.

What to look for as you optimize your content

Once you’ve got your target list of pages, the content work begins. There’s a number of things to check and optimize:

The content itself:

  • Is the research referenced in the content current?
  • Has something changed in the industry or the technology that warrants a rewrite?
  • Are the images optimized?
  • Does the copy on the page need a rewrite?
  • Is this content missing any important parts or aspects that need to be added?
  • If it’s an in-house piece, has the author left your company?

Call to action

  • Is there a more relevant offer for the call to action?
  • What keywords are visitors using to find this page? Do those searches line up with the content and the call to action on the page? (See your Google Search Console account for this data.)


  • For the internal links, are they pointing to pages you want to send traffic to? Is the call to action working well?
  • Do all the outbound or internal links go to the best pages available?

Search engine optimization:

  • Is the on-page SEO for this page optimized?
  • Is the title tag properly optimized?
  • Is the meta description tag written as well as possible?
  • Are there any links to this page from other sites that you might want to disavow?
  • Is the bounce rate high on the page?
  • Is the page mobile friendly?
  • Does this page load as fast as possible?
  • Could you add schema tags to make this page show up better in the search results, or for Google’s rich answers?


  • Could this content be re-formatted, then re-published on other platforms, including social media?

Whew – lots of questions. I think you get the idea of how thorough the updating process can be. You may not have time to address every one of those questions, and you may have other issues or aspects of the page you’ll want to update. But the over-arching point is to take the deep dive into re-hauling the page for maximum performance.

Schedule the optimization work like any other new content

As you’ve probably noticed, this updating work is a blend of editorial, design, business strategy, and search engine optimization.

That usually means you’ll be pulling resources from multiple departments, and asking people with different expertise to work together. This is all to the good, but it needs an execution plan and a way to track progress – just like any other project.

You may find it’s impossible to continue with a regular publishing schedule while this work gets done. That’s okay. Remember – you’re going after your highest value pages. These are the big winners of your content program. They deserve some time spent in the shop, as it were.

Ubounce screenshot
Unbounce took a 2-week publishing hiatus to evaluate their content. Part of that process was sending out this survey to access what their audience thinks of their content.

After the optimization

Once you’ve got all that optimization done, don’t just let those pages sit there. These are your high performers. They deserve to be shared via your social media accounts on a regular basis – like at least once a month.

For blog posts, it’s also possible to re-publish. Yep – you can update and expand the post, then change the publication date and publish it as if it was new. Econsultancy tried this not so long ago and got excellent results. Republishing also means you’ve got great new content for your email newsletter, too. (Just don’t change the URL!)

One caveat to republishing and to historical optimization in general: It works best with evergreen content – content that will still be of use to your audience in a year or so. So any content that was “newsjacked” or seasonal probably won’t benefit as much from this technique.


We have to step off the hamster wheel of constant, “more-is-better” content creation. There’s a treasure trove of old content that deserves attention. Ironically, it’s usually driving most of our business results.

You don’t have to optimize every piece of old content, but optimizing even 10% of your older content can deliver significant results. After all, these content pieces are already proven performers. Who doesn’t like going after a sure thing?

Let’s take this idea one step further. Assuming you’ve got two years or more of backlog content, what if you dedicated 20% or so of your content team’s time to improving old content? What if every quarter you shut down new content creation while you optimized older content? What might that do?

Back to you

Do you optimize older content on a regular basis? How well has it worked for you? Tell us what you think in the comments.

4 Step Content Plan 2
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The Guide to a Successful Employee Advocacy Plan Mon, 12 Sep 2016 10:00:00 +0000 Why take the time to cultivate employee advocacy? Imagine positioning your brand as one its employees are proud to work for.]]>

From Tweeting, to Facebooking, to posting on LinkedIn and Google+, B2B marketers are in an endless social race. They must keep up with social trends, create immense amounts of content, and constantly distribute it across various social channels to maintain audience engagement. But this race gets very tiring. With content being published around-the-clock, marketers expect to see results quickly, even though establishing a company’s presence and credibility online requires time and patience.

The fact is that even though the content being posted is both interesting and valuable, establishing trust among customers is becoming ever more challenging. Why? Picture the following scenario: if an enterprise like Fujitsu tries to sell its augmented reality solution by posting an educational article on their official Twitter, their motives are overt – turn individuals into leads. Now imagine the same educational article being Tweeted by an employee, inviting their audience to read the article, which seems more personal and authentic.

This scenario is a perfect example of employee advocacy.
This is a picture of two Tweets screenshots. What Tweet would you trust more? From a friend or from a brand? A brand’s social media marketing is incomplete without employee advocacy.

What is Employee Advocacy?

Simply put, employee advocacy is the activity of employees promoting their company’s message. In the world of B2B marketing, employees can be a company’s most valuable marketing asset. Yet, a majority of organizations underestimate the potential of their employees, and don’t tap into this crucial resource.

The idea is that once employees are empowered to support the company’s goals and messages, they can begin to spread them throughout their own social channels. In fact, 98% of employees already use at least one social media platform for personal use, while 50% are posting about their company.

Why is Employee Advocacy Important?

B2B marketers struggle to establish trust among their audience when trying to reach them organically. As this Ad Age story points out, fewer than 25% of US online consumers trust ads in print publications, and the numbers are even worse for digital media. But people tend to trust other people. That’s why turning employees into advocates is one of the best solutions to spreading an organization’s message in a way that sticks. There are two key reasons why building an advocacy program is essential to any marketing strategy.

1. Amplify Reach

The first reason is that an employee advocate amplifies a company’s reach. Since most employees are used to being active on social media and have 10 times more followers than the company’s networks, they are more likely to drive brand awareness. In fact, messages reach 561% further and are re-shared 24 times more when shared by employees versus the official corporate channels. Not to mention, employees are able to generate 8 times more engagement than all of their company’s social accounts combined. As a result of increased brand awareness, the business will also experience growth in customer loyalty, lead generation, and in turn a higher revenue.

2. Thought Leadership & Trust

As a result of sharing original and valuable content on their own social networks, employee advocates gradually develop a credible reputation and become thought leaders in their industry. Being thought leaders also makes them a trustworthy voice within a noisy background of repetitive marketing messages. This therefore gives them the power to attract the attention of a widespread audience, drive more traffic to the corporate site, and in turn produce a higher return on investment (ROI).

This image illustrates an advocacy path to success for employees.

How to do Advocacy?

It’s all well and good that employees are active on social media and sharing information about their company online, but developing a sustainable advocacy program takes a lot of planning and follow-up. Essentially, when introducing an advocacy program, there are two main challenges to be aware of: creating content and getting advocates onboard.

1. Creating content

As soon as there’s an advocacy program in place, creating and curating content can be not only expensive but also time-consuming. There must be a variety of content such as webinars, blog posts, whitepapers, case studies, podcasts and so forth distributed frequently and regularly. It’s also important to understand the type of people that are going to be advocates, and the kind of content their audiences will be sensitive to.

2. Onboarding Advocates

The most challenging part of an advocacy program for most organizations is actually getting employees to be active. As a general rule there are four steps involved in the process of onboarding employees:

  1. Establish a focus group – to sell the idea to a selected group of employees, to get a feel for what would work best, and what (if any) barriers are in the way
  2. Reiterate value – getting those employees to repeat the actions so the idea sticks
  3. Measure – determine Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) so you can measure the success of employees’ activities
  4. Expand program – once you’ve analyzed the results, you’ll have a good idea how to expand the program and recruit more employees

Now let’s outline a simplified step-by-step process of creating an employee advocacy plan that will help any company succeed:

Step 1: Outline Your Strategy

The first part of your strategy involves deciding what the program’s goals and KPIs are, and how they will be measured. There are two types of metrics that are important to track:

  1. Tactical metrics, which include tracking each individual post, employee and social network through clicks, engagement, and reach
  2. Revenue metrics, which involve measuring the program’s true ROI by understanding how the social advocacy affects leads, cost per lead, and closed deals

Next you’ll need to understand who will be participating in the program. Customer-facing roles, such as sales, marketing, and customer success should be prioritized. This will help you reach the most relevant audience, and in turn increase the advocates’ thought-leadership status. While the type of content will vary according to each group; in general, it should include: original content created by the company, curated content, content suggested by employees, as well as promotional and informative content.

Step 2: Gain Traction Within the Organization

The second step is to proactively, carefully choose the top employees for the program and provide them with background on what they’ll gain from participating. Look for your articulate spokespeople in every department across your company. Note that some employees will already be social media savvy while others will require training. Focus on the ones that are already savvy, as they are more likely to demonstrate success.

Step 3: Reinforce Value to Advocates

The third step focuses on getting this first group of selected employees to sign up to the advocacy platform.

This group and all subsequent groups to join the advocacy program should be sold on the benefits of participating. For example, Hinge Research reports that sales reps are 51% more likely to attract and develop new business, while marketing and customer success personnel will gain thought leadership opportunities. No matter the role, about 69% of employees say social media helped their career.

Communicate clearly, so they fully understand what is expected of them, the advantages of being an advocate, and what the rewards will be if they do it well. Use emails, slideshows, a short video or animation, whatever it takes to gain their attention and communicate.

Providing employees with social media training – such as setting up a profile and showing them how to build their networks – will help drive the program forward. Using a proper employee advocacy platform will make things much easier, eliminating the need for employees to post on each individual network.

Step 4: Evaluate Employee Advocate Performance

Once the advocacy program is in full swing, it’s critical to measure the performance of the program every step of the way. The three most common KPIs for measuring the success of social media advocacy are:

  1. Leads – the number of leads generated from social channels
  2. Follower growth – growth in the number of social followers
  3. Website traffic – impact on website traffic

With a proper social media management platform, it’s much easier to track and measure the success of employee performance and accurately report those findings to the people who need them most. Using such a platform, it’s also possible to measure the analytics gathered from the social advocacy program in the ecosystem of the social media marketing as a whole.

Step 5: Gamification

The key to a successful advocacy program is to make it fun and engaging for the employees. There are several ways to incentivize your employees in order to motivate them and drive higher results. Some ideas include rewarding employees with real cash, identifying top employee advocates, or perhaps creating some friendly competitions by splitting advocates into teams.

Step 6: Land and Expand

Once you’ve achieved success with the initial advocate group, the final step involves expanding the program to include as many people from the company for even greater reach. Expanding can follow several strategies:

  • Incorporate specific departments and onboard them in small focus groups.
  • In case the first option was met with resistance, stick to small guided groups, which makes it easier to transfer knowledge and value.
  • Depending on the size and social savviness of the workforce, the final option is to launch the advocacy program company-wide, which means training all employees at the same level. Take into consideration that it would be much harder to teach larger groups and avoid negative feelings.

Social media marketing is incomplete (and much less successful) without employee advocacy. Having a well-designed social advocacy program creates a transparent work culture, in which every team member – marketers and employees alike – gets exposed to the clicks, shares and conversations generated by each individual. Most importantly, it positions your brand as one its employees are proud to work for, which makes it trustworthy. And that’s great branding – and great marketing.

eBook: 5 Ways to Integrate Social Media Across Marketing Channels
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Why Snapchat Might Be Your Next B2B Marketing Tool Fri, 09 Sep 2016 10:00:00 +0000 Snapchat won’t be right for all companies, but B2B stalwarts like IBM are scoring with it, so maybe it’s time to take a closer look.]]>

When thinking of Snapchat, you might envision groups of teens exchanging selfies and videos. Not really a space where serious B2B marketers spend their time. But while this app was becoming wildly popular with tweens and teens, something else was happening, too. It was transforming from a quiet dark horse into a serious contender in social media.

Snapchat has grown to over 150 million daily active users. That’s more than Twitter. But, more important, these users are no longer your neighborhood kids; half are 25 or older. They are now your prospects and customers.

B2C companies were early entrants into using Snapchat, including brands such as Amazon, Coca-Cola and General Electric. Yet B2B marketers have been slower to adopt Snapchat into their marketing efforts. Rapid growth in this social media channel, combined with the demographic shift, however, make it difficult to ignore. But what is Snapchat and how are brands successfully deploying it in their marketing strategy?

What Is Snapchat?

Snapchat is a mobile-only messaging application that people use to share all different types of media, including photos, video, text and even drawings. This sharing platform became very popular within a short period of time, especially with young people. But if you haven’t used this app before, you might be wondering – how does it work?

Each user gets a QR code (not your mother’s boring old QR code; this one is basically a picture that can be animated as a gif). For B2B marketing purposes, you might want to use a logo or relevant company image. Here’s an example of what one B2B company used:

B2B stalwarts, like IMB in this screenshot, are testing whether Snapchat will be the next big B2B marketing tool.

Through Snapchat, you can snap quick videos or photos to share in your feed, which is called “Your Story.” These items are only available for 24 hours, which creates a sense of urgency to check back often.

(And this now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t nature accounts for the Snapchat logo, “Ghostface Chillah” [based on Ghostface Killah of the Wu-Tang Clan]).

But how are brands using this platform to drive engagement and results?

IBM – Showing Behind-the-Scenes Footage

Companies are using Snapchat to connect and engage with viewers by offering behind-the-scenes footage. For example, B2B stalwart IBM offers a behind-the-scenes look into their technology, showing how they collect tennis match data, analyze it, and distribute scores and statistics.

B2B stalwart IBM uses snapchat to show a behind-the-scenes look into their technology.

Snapchat is built to be a fun platform for sharing. So make sure that the footage you share is interesting and entertaining for your target audience to drive optimal interest and engagement.

CISCO – Enlisting Employee Involvement

Understanding the power of Snapchat, CISCO decided to get employees on board and share an inside glimpse into the company. They recently published the blog post, “Oh snap! Cisco employees take over Snapchat.”

Examples of events they share through Snapchat include the annual employee Crawfish Boil in Texas, an up-close tour of an office location and other behind-the-scenes footage.

CISCO uses snapchat as a way to give employees an inside glimpse into the company

Enlist the help of employees to engage on Snapchat and harness ideas for various types of content to share.

Everlane – a Clothier Providing “Radical Transparency”

Everlane is an online clothing retailer with a unique hook: the company’s radical transparency is a promise to disclose the true costs of an item, and then show you their markup. They were an early adopter of Snapchat. They use the social channel to maximize other aspects of transparency between the retailer and the customer, publishing raw, live footage to better connect with their audience.

Visiting the company’s Snapchat is almost like getting a backstage pass into their e-commerce business. From current events to company culture, they leverage this platform to create a narrative around their brand and tell their story. Content ranges from short video clips of tours around their spaces to customer interviews at the retailer’s brick-and-mortar locations.

Everlane was an early adopter of Snapchat

They also take a personal approach to responding to “snaps” (which are like messages) from customers. A customized response is created for each message to drive higher levels of engagement. In fact, it’s not uncommon for customers to reach out and seek advice on a potential outfit.

The company is continuously trying to find little pieces of what’s going on at headquarters and share these stories through Snapchat.

General Electric – Spreading Knowledge

General Electric is known for its involvement in social media and is active on a plethora of channels – from Twitter and Facebook to Instagram. But a couple of years ago, they also took the plunge into Snapchat, sharing snackable pieces of knowledge through the platform.

They share short video clips that teach interesting knowledge and facts, such as the snap below.

General Electric uses Snapch to share short video clips that teach interesting knowledge and facts.

Like other companies, they also share company event details. For example, in the snap below they are inviting viewers to check out snaps from the event they are attending in Las Vegas.

Snapchat can also be used to notify and invite participants to an event.

Overall, their strategy is to get the audience engaged and connected to build stronger relationships and keep top-of-mind.

Snapchat: 5 Tips for Success

Are you thinking about using Snapchat in your B2B marketing efforts? If so, you’ll need a few tips for getting started. Here’s a few to inspire your efforts.

1. Test all features available through Snapchat.

Snapchat is designed to be fun, so don’t rule out any features until you test them. For example, you can use emoji, filters (which allow for text and drawings) and short raw video clips. Test a variety of features to determine which ones resonate best with your target audience.

2. Cross-promote your snaps.

When viewing the examples above, you’ll notice that many brands are cross-promoting their snaps through other social media channels. For example, you can promote a snap through your Twitter account. This lets your audience know that you’re on Snapchat and secures greater exposure for your snaps. For example, check out Coca-Cola’s cross-promotion below.

Snapchat is also a great method for cross-promotion as seen in this Coca Cola example.

3. Consider the “Snapchat takeover.”

You’ve likely heard of influencer marketing, but marketers are applying these concepts to Snapchat as well through Snapchat takeovers. This involves partnering with an influencer (that you trust wholeheartedly) in your space and giving them access to your Snapchat account for the day.

The benefit of this marketing strategy is that it helps to grow your audience faster within a short period of time. Test it out in your marketing strategy and measure the results.

4. Showcase tradeshows and events.

You can play events chronologically through Snapchat, which allows the story to unfold as you attend an event. You can also show your location, so don’t be surprised if Snapchat followers track you down at an event!

5. Showcase product sneak peeks.

Snapchat is a great way to unveil details about an upcoming product launch. Create a story behind your launch and share details up until the launch date to build excitement.

Did I Mention … Snapchat Is Supposed to Be Fun?

Snapchat is the opposite of a stringent, uptight, corporate culture. It’s a great place to showcase your brand personality and create more engaging and authentic interactions with your customers. And it’s proving to be a low-cost and highly engaging platform that helps brands more effectively reach customers in new and engaging ways.

But, as with any platform, the key is consistent testing and gauging your audience’s response to the content.

Have you used Snapchat in your marketing efforts? If so, please share your results.

Title Image Credit: ArthurStock /

eBook: 10 tips for Creating Engaging Social Content
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How to Create an Engaging and Effective Presentation Thu, 08 Sep 2016 10:00:00 +0000 How to tell your brand’s story and keep your audience awake (and engaged). Master the art of the effective presentation slide deck.]]>

I used to think presentation decks were an afterthought. They’re meant to be an accompaniment to a speaker, I thought. Just pictures on a screen to give the eye something to rest on while the talker talks.

How wrong I have been. These things are hard to write.

They’re meant for visual aid, yes – but they also need to stand on their own. Each slide must balance the right amount of content – not so sparse that it looks half-finished, and not so cluttered that you can’t read it.

Decks need to tell a story, and engage the audience.

The pacing has to be just-so.

They need to be informative, and potentially persuasive depending on your desired outcome.

No matter whether you have three slides or 100, you need to think through what content is going on EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.

As this graphic suggest, your presentation’s success depends on the quality of your slide deck. This post offers tips for a better presentation slide deck.

Here are some lessons I’ve learned (somewhat painfully) about putting together clear and effective presentations.

Consider your storyline

First, what are you trying to say, or achieve? Start there and work backwards to create your presentation.

Make sure the content is in logical order. You might lean on a three-act structure to evoke emotion and persuade your audience to hook them in. Or, choose a top-down approach, where you lead with your strongest statement or big reveal. This is especially wise if you’re short on time or your audience has potential to check out after the first five minutes. (More on attention spans later.)

Dan Roam is best known as being the “back of the napkin guy.” He’s carved a career niche out of teaching people how to tell effective stories – with simple images. He also has a really great set of templates for determining your storyline. There are four possibilities, he says: a linear, straightforward report-type approach; a buildable story that gives more and more explanation as you go; an obstacle-infused/how-to-overcome pitch; or a sweeping, dramatic Hollywood-style story with dramatic lows and highs. (You can read more about it in his book Show and Tell.)

four storylines

Whatever you do, just don’t make your slides haphazard. We’ve all been there when people wing it in a meeting, and it’s obvious. Have a roadmap, and follow it.

Make it easy on them

There is another tip in an old adage:

  • Tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em – this is your agenda
  • Tell ‘em – this is the meat of the presentation
  • Tell ’em what you told ‘em – this is your summary and conclusion

It’s simple, succinct, and something worth following as you structure your presentation.

Carefully consider your images

Images are an integral component of a presentation. Make sure the images complement your words. They should also be able to tell the story visually without words, if need be. Suppose you’re doing an online webinar, and the audience tunes the audio out to take a phone call? Or you’re standing at the TED Talk podium, and the sound fails. Will the pictures tell the story? That said, you don’t want the images to steal the show either.

But don’t forget your words

The text, images, and your voice should all be a nice foil for one another. Your words are super important – both what you state on the slide, and what you speak (from the notes).

Speak plainly. It sounds so obvious, but sometimes we forget. Your mantra should be less jargon, more humanity. Simple is not bad. Simple is clear and effective. Read more on the beauty of simplicity here.

Personally I like to write a script in the notes rather than just provide bullet points or snippets. Tactically, I do this in a word processing file first, before I create the presentation. Then I break apart the script and push it on to slides. Finally, to build the actual slide content, I take the key words (the headlines, the products, the stats) and put only those onto the slides. Remember that your words – the notes and the slides – also need to complement one another. Don’t be redundant; the audience should not be able to just read what you are saying off the slide, but make sure the key points are echoed. It’s a bit like a teeter-totter – not too much or too little on either side.

Consider your audience at the words stage, too. Your job is not only to distill what you want to say – but who you say it to. The answer to this question impacts the content – the vocabulary, the granularity – of your presentation. Who will hear (and watch) this presentation? Is it a C-level executive who you’re trying to convince to buy your services, for example? How is her language different from yours? Consider whether your audience might be open-eared and caffeinated, ready to listen for 40 minutes – or if you have 90 seconds to convey your points before they check out. I could talk for a long time about audience, and in fact I will in an upcoming blog – so more on this later.

Evaluate the overall harmony

Now it’s time to step back and evaluate your work thus far. Fly up to those proverbial 10,000 feet and get an aerial view. How’s it look from up there?

One thing to check is balance, like the way those images and words are working together. Take a gander at the overall structure and layout of your content, too. Is anything clunky or way too text-heavy? Maybe too sparse? Take note.

There’s a test I like to do at this stage: I peer at just the script and notes – sometimes from the thumbnail view – and assess if the story is complete. What If I just scan through the slides and read those, without hearing any accompanying speaker. Do I still understand?

Keep tabs on pacing

Now that the content is plotted and the 10,000-foot view taken, you can move to the finesse stage.

Walk through your presentation as though you’re giving it. You could have someone (perhaps your PR person) give you feedback. When does the audience start yawning, or checking their phone?

You definitely don’t want to lose your audience before you make your big point; you want to keep them hooked throughout the whole spiel.

As a tactic, try interspersing your presentation with built-in breaks, like pauses for questions. Or maybe weave in a demo video or some kind of anecdote every few slides. Some presenters do audience opinion surveys about a fact they are about to reveal. You don’t want to be too choppy, but you also don’t want to be a drone. Play around with it and see what works.

Offload the extras

Got too much content? Offload as much as you can so that the slides themselves are tidy and legible. (Maybe you have the beginning of a companion eBook with that extra content.)

You can put some of the text into the note fields. Your speaker can say a lot so your slides don’t need to.

And take advantage of the appendix. In book publishing, this is often referred to as “backmatter.” The pages at the end of the book give more context, such as citing the original source of material or inspiration, and providing non-fiction references. In business, this is the job of the presentation’s appendix. You can tack on your extra slides, additional examples, resources materials, ‘further reading,’ etc., here, too.

Just don’t cram it all into the main slides. Remember: no one wants to (or can) read data in five-point font.

Look to the experts

A note on the illustrations, design, and images: leave it to the professionals.

If you are a word person, chances are slim that you are also a picture person. (If you are, more power to you – this is a uniquely valuable skillset). But are you sure? Seek honest feedback from your peers. What do they really think about those clip-art inclusions? And your retro-cool animations – are they helpful or harmful? At minimum, have someone check your slides to ensure all the font styles, sizes, and colors really are consistent.

Better yet, employ an expert. A really good designer isn’t just someone who “makes it look pretty.” Sure, they should be an expert with the tool at hand (PowerPoint, Prezi, Keynote, etc.). But they should also understand what you are trying to achieve. Meet with them as early as possible – before you write the words. Have them sit in on a client meeting if possible, so they can learn more about the aesthetic and intended direction of the presentation. And listen as the designer gives tips on how to organize your content, visually, for effect.

Together, you can create a stronger presentation.

Prepare for catastrophe

Let’s talk about the actual presentation day.

Yes, beforehand, you should practice your speech. You should bring water so your mouth doesn’t get too dry while you’re talking. Get your i’s dotted and your t’s crossed and all your ducks in a row. (For more good tips, check out this post.)

But what if something happens that is worse than stumbling over your words? Imagine that you’ve designed a kickass presentation, it’s gorgeous and full of fun images and demos and charts. You worked for hours on it. You arrive in the conference room, and there’s no projector. Now what?

I recently saw this happen at a conference. A room of nearly 100 people waited as the speaker tried to figure out what to do. She pulled it off – doing a good job of talking through her slides even though we couldn’t see any of the pretty images. In this case, her words were enough. It maybe didn’t look as nice as she had hoped, but we got the message. She’d done her contingency planning, and you should too.

Presentations online versus at an event

Where are you giving your presentation? Is it online, such as for a webinar or live at an event or customer conversation? The basics are the same: you still need a nicely organized presentation with a clear objective, and you need to rehearse.

But a few things differ…

With online presentations, you have a limited amount of time to capture your audience. A recent New York Times article cited a staggering statistic: the human attention lasts a paltry eight seconds. Eight seconds! That is in person. Imagine how quickly you can lose your audience online – especially if they are multitasking. (And it is very likely that they are.) You’ve got to be both engaging and concise.

Consider how your presentation will play if they won’t even hear you speaking, too. For example, is this online rendition of your deck literally just a download – and thus needs to speak for itself? You’ve gotta capture them, or they’re out.

Also consider how or if your audience will engage with you during the presentation. I’ve attended online webinars that feature real-time chat – this is pretty common these days. You need someone (someone else, not yourself) to monitor the Q&A as you speak, or leave time to address questions at the end. An audience can ask questions or otherwise interject when you present in-person, too, but typically the pacing is different (see the previously mentioned suggestion of leaving space for Q&A in your slides).

How to scale

Your presentation is done. Great work! Now think about all the time you spent crafting it. You don’t want this to be a one-and-done, do you? Didn’t think so.

Now’s the time to put on your marketing hat and figure out how you can get the most bang out of the buck (and time) you just spent.

For instance, if you are giving your presentation online, record it (being sure you notify your audience that you’re doing so, of course), then make it available on-demand. This could be on your company’s video library site, or YouTube or Vimeo, for instance.

You can also take the audio portion and edit it down for a podcast.

Maybe you can take the transcript – or your speaker’s notes – and transcribe them into a blog (or three).

Also, you may as well spiff up the deck and put it on SlideShare. This site gets great amounts of eyeballs, via sharing and search. There are staggering stats, like the fact that businesses can see 500 percent more traffic on SlideShare than the big guns (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn). Learn more about SlideShare.

And by all means, you should use those snappy images to drive traffic via your social media channels.

For more on recycling content, read this post.

Take a bow

When it’s all done – the deck written, the images beautiful, the speech given, and the whole thing archived for future use, it’s time to take a bow and congratulate yourself for a job well done. Bravo!

4 Steps to Content Plan
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YouTube Views Don’t Matter – Here Are 5 Metrics That Do Wed, 07 Sep 2016 10:00:00 +0000 Learn how to get the most from your videos. Here are five video metrics that will let you know if you’re making the right investment. ]]>

“Wow, that YouTube video has got more than a million views already!”

Have you ever thought this after seeing a company’s so-called “viral” video? You might have watched the video ad just to see why it was so popular. And you might have thought, “Huh, that video wasn’t very good. Why are people watching it?”

Did this video make you want to buy the product, or take action to find out more about that company’s services? Unless you’re in that product’s target market, probably not.

The YouTube view count is probably the most well-known statistic in social media. It’s quoted in conversations, on TV, in blogs, everywhere.

But the real truth is YouTube views don’t matter. Not much, anyway.

Here’s why:

You don’t know if the views are paid or organic

Everyone has seen those skippable pre-roll videos on YouTube, right? The ones where the timer counts down from 5 to 1, then the counter image changes into an image giving you the option to “Skip Ad.” Well, those pre-rolls are YouTube videos, too, and views from paid campaigns count toward the video’s official view count, just the same as organic views resulting from someone finding it via YouTube search.

Here's the familiar pre-roll, "in-stream" ad we see all the time on YouTube. But the core video that is playing in the pre-roll is just a normal YouTube video that's being amplified with paid views. If you discovered this video via YouTube search rather than as a pre-roll, its viewcount would include both paid and organic views; but you, the viewer, would not know how many of those views were paid.

Here’s the familiar pre-roll, “in-stream” ad we see all the time on YouTube. But the core video that is playing in the pre-roll is just a normal YouTube video that’s being amplified with paid views. If you discovered this video via YouTube search rather than as a pre-roll, its view count would include both paid and organic views; but you, the viewer, would not know how many of those views were paid.

You don’t know how much of the video is being watched

A common misconception of YouTube views, whether paid or organic, is that someone has watched all or most of a video. Not true. While YouTube has said that someone has to watch >30 seconds to be counted a view, for paid campaigns the viewers actually have to watch a much shorter duration to be counted as a view – but some of these views are free to the advertiser. For videos longer than 30 seconds, advertisers are only charged when someone watches for 30 seconds or more (or clicks on the advertiser link in the lower left).

But, in truth, the amount of time watched to count as a view shouldn’t really matter, unless you are using view count as your primary metric of success, which you should not.

There are better things to track

Much more important than the YouTube view count is the targeting of that video as an ad, or the organic viewership’s level of engagement with that same video. If those views are creating awareness among the right audience, or if the video is creating sales, that’s great. But views for view’s sake are just a vanity metric.

Other than just trying to look respectable, the implicit idea behind having lots of views on an ad is that

  • You’ll sell more stuff (or)
  • You’ll get ranked higher in YouTube search (or higher in suggested videos, which appear in the right column of video watch pages).

But neither of these goals can be accomplished with views alone.

Selling more stuff

For the goal of selling more stuff, views only matter if you’re targeting the right audiences, and if your ad is effective. These are basic principles of advertising. But often targeting is sacrificed with the goal of getting more views, no matter the results.

Trying to get ranked higher on YouTube by getting more views

The YouTube algorithm stopped ranking videos mostly by view counts several years ago. Instead, today videos are ranked by an algorithm based on “Watch Time,” which is a shortcut description for a number of factors that YouTube doesn’t exactly spell out. YouTube says the longer people watch your videos organically, or the longer they watch your videos as part of an overall YouTube-watching session that includes videos by other channels, they will rank your videos higher.

How much does it cost to buy 1 million views?

If a company were just looking for views without any targeting, they could get a million views for less than $10,000. And while $10,000 is a notable price for a small business to spend on a vanity metric of a million views, for a large company that just spent, say, $100,000 or so shooting a TV commercial that’s going to be repurposed to go on YouTube, it’s not that much.

The lowest possible price possible per view is one cent. So $.01 x 1,000,000 equals $10,000, a reasonable price to get a million views. Technically, you could get this for a lower price, because on some pre-roll ads you will get views counted toward your videos without the viewers watching long enough to be billed within the ad system.

But who would we target in this sample YouTube ad? Well, if you didn’t care who the ad targeted, or where or when, you could do it cheap, but it wouldn’t be very effective. You could run the ad in a foreign country where views were cheaper (and where you might not even do business). You could decline to target by age range, or gender, or interest… or anything.

The YouTube TrueView/AdWords for video system would be happy to sell you those views. But what would this accomplish? It will simply get you a big number to show your boss. That is fine as long as he doesn’t ask any pesky questions about who watched the video or why it’s not getting any results other than views.

Is the ad effective because it reached a million views? Only if it’s well targeted in both the distribution and the way the video communicates its message, and eventually leads to brand lift and sales.

Here are some better metrics

There are some metrics to measure the effectiveness of a video. These numbers are harder to find, and a little more difficult to describe – and none, sadly, are as sexy as the YouTube view count.

It’s pretty hard to reverse-engineer the YouTube algorithm, but here are several apples-to-apples metrics that will help you infer how a video is doing that you can compare with your other videos.

1) Organic Audience Retention

YouTube “Audience Retention” is a heat map that shows what percentage of viewers are watching at any given second during a video. This is a pretty awesome metric. It breaks out retention by paid and organic views. Basically, you’re trying to figure out how long people are watching on average. One way to look at is at what time 50% of the audience has left the video. If it’s after just a few seconds, the video isn’t very compelling to the audience you’re currently reaching. Note, this doesn’t mean the video is bad – it might work very well for television, for instance. But for the YouTube audience you’re currently targeting, the message is not currently resonating.

This is an example of an Audience Retention heat map which can help you determine your organic audience retention.

This is the Audience Retention heat map for a video that has both organic (pictured in blue) and paid views via AdWords’ TrueView in-stream (pictured in green), also known as pre-roll ads. The “Average View Duration” at the top is deceptive because it’s for the organic portion, which might be a minority of views. We can see that midway in the video, 86% of non-ad viewers are still watching, but only 15% of paid viewers. In fact, the majority of paid viewers dropped off as soon as they saw that Skip Ad after 5 seconds. Even though the advertiser was only charged for viewers that watched 30 seconds, some of the viewers who clicked off earlier still count as views.

2) Organic Subscriber Velocity

One study of the YouTube algorithm has shown that it gives more weight to videos where a high number of subscribers view a given video within 48 hours of its being posted. Logically, this shows that your biggest fans find the video relevant. So it will show up more frequently in suggested videos (the right hand column of a video “watch page”) for your subscribers and for people watching videos with similar themes to the videos on your channel.

To find subscriber velocity: Go to Analytics, then Watch Time in the left navigation, which gets you here. Then at the top of the page type your video title in “Search for content.” Right below, select “Subscribed.” Then at the top right of the page, select the first two days after the video was launched.

watch time overview

This gives you an idea of how many of your subscribers are jumping right into watching the content. If the video has both paid and organic views, this number can be skewed, but you can still compare the numbers versus previous videos in absolute subscriber views numbers.

3) Subscribers Gained

YouTube subscribers are like followers on Instagram or Twitter. The more people who subscribe, the more people who are going to see your channel organically. So how many new subscribers is a given video getting you? And if a video isn’t getting people to subscribe, why not? Do you ask people to subscribe within the channel? Why not? Are people supposed to guess that they have to subscribe?

Go here to find out how many subscribers you’re driving. Select individual video content and dates at the top of the page.

4) Suggested Videos

With YouTube, “SEO” is really the wrong word – it’s really discoverability, because the platform recommends videos in so many places other than search. In fact, one of the top places to get traffic is in the suggested videos area, which appears in the right-hand column of each video “watch page.” These are the videos YouTube thinks people are going to want to watch next.

So the question is, how many of your other videos are being recommended from this video? And if there aren’t any being recommended, why not? Ideally, you should have between five and 10 of the first 20 videos in the right column pointing videos of your own channel.

If not, the first question you should ask yourself is – is this video relevant to my own best fans? Or is it off topic, or the wrong format for them to watch on YouTube? Or is it being described improperly in the metadata (title, tags, description)?

Also, are your thumbnails attention getters? Or are they drab? Do they have a similar look to them, so that any of your subscribers would know just by looking at a postage stamp-sized version of them for a split second? Also, is this video part of at least one playlist? And is that playlist linked to in the description of your video?

If the algorithm doesn’t think viewers of this video would like further videos on your own channel, this video is a one-and-done, and the algorithm won’t give it much traffic. It’s not that relevant to what the normal viewers of your channel want to see. Logically, this means that either this video isn’t that great for your audience, or the other videos aren’t. It’s best to pick a theme your audience will want to see again and again, and stick to it.

5) Conversions

How many conversions is each video getting? Which videos are converting the best? Do you know?

It’s baffling that in today’s age of marketing automation and tracking every click, some major companies are still not doing individual “attribution” tracking from links in the description of each YouTube video. Some don’t even put any links in the description. Simply put, each YouTube video offers a description area where you can put anything you want – for free – plus the option to linking through YouTube cards and a few other places.

There are a number of ways of tracking conversion, but basically the best way is to get a UTM code as described in this post. Then you can take that whole UTM code and put it into a Bitly link so it looks a little cleaner. Then you create a simple call-to-action, such as “Find out more:” Ideally, you should have a link-01, link-02, and so forth, with each link being different so you can track the results of each video and do more of the kind that are getting the most clicks.

So there you have it. YouTube views don’t matter. But there are many other metrics that do, if you know what to look for.

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