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Where content meets technology

Sep 03, 2013

There is no partial credit in digital marketing

  • You sweated over SEO but forgot to set your robots.txt to allow. Fail.

  • Your content is brilliant but you can't drive traffic to it. Fail.

  • You bought all the right keywords but your content stinks. Fail.

  • You have the content that a visitor wants but you show him something else. Fail.

  • You target the right content to a visitor but the display gets in the way of his enjoyment of it. Fail.

  • Your content goes viral but your site crashes. Fail.

  • Your visitors are devouring your content but you wouldn't know because your analytics isn't tracking properly. Fail.

  • Your visitors are ready to engage but they can't find a call to action. Fail.

  • Your visitor fills out a form but the data goes nowhere. Fail.

  • You are capturing leads but nobody is doing anything with them. Fail.

  • You have valuable data but no actionable insight. Fail.

We have all been there. We focus on one aspect of digital marketing but neglecting another critical step eliminates our impact. To be successful, you have to be good at lots of things and pay attention to the details. It is better to be proficient in all of the dimensions of digital marketing than to be excellent in any one. So much for the hope that you are just "one viral video" away from achieving your most ambitious marketing goals. Welcome to the grind.

Jun 25, 2013

Flexibility. It's a matter of perspective.

In my many years of collecting requirements for content management systems, I can't think of a single project where the word "flexibility" wasn't on the initial list of requirements. This "requirement" seems harmless enough. What could be wrong with the system being flexible? Flexibility seems like the perfect thing to ask for when you don't really know what you want. But it's a trap. Here is why.

Everyone who hears the word "flexibility" takes it to mean "being able to do whatever I want with the platform." But what that means depends on who you are and what you are personally capable of. For example:

  • If you are a content creator, "flexibility" may conjure up an image of MS PowerPoint where you can make text boxes and pictures wherever you want on the page.

  • If you are a web designer, you might imagine being able to edit pages as if they were static HTML where you could write whatever markup, CSS, or Javascript that you wanted. And every page could be a unique creation.

  • If you are a print designer, you might picture editing one big image in Photoshop where you have precise control over every pixel and don't have to worry about annoyances like browser support or different displays.

  • If you are developer might think about structured data that is re-usable and can be controlled by display template logic.

The interesting thing is that these expectations are usually mutually exclusive. The content producer's unstructured PowerPoint document is garbage to a template developer who whats to make global changes or adapt the display of the content for different contexts and audiences. The structured content model and display templates are inflexible to the content producer who doesn't know HTML and doesn't have access to develop and test code. An image produced by a graphic designer is a black box to anyone who doesn't have the source file and the right software to edit it.

And this is why everyone consider's their current CMS inflexible and tries to prioritize flexibility the next time around. But the process just repeats itself again and again.

The first step to breaking out of this cycle is to strike the term "flexibility" from the conversation entirely. Every time someone says the word, he needs to put a dollar in a jar. You can't move forward together if your interpretations of a word are diverging. After that, start talking about "balance of control" as in who controls what on the page. Stake out your territories. This doesn't have to be a land grab. Have mature discussions about control vs. responsibility and the ongoing maintenance implications of these decisions. Educate each other about your different perspectives. Talk through scenarios of what might need to change and who should need to participate in that change.

Most importantly, you should avoid thinking in absolutes like "flexible" or "inflexible." When you talk about balance of control, you are more likely to have productive discussions about moving boundaries rather scraping the whole system because it is "inflexible."

Apr 30, 2013

How frequently should we update our homepage?

I recently overheard a discussion that should have gone extinct years ago:

"We try to update our home page twice a month … you know … to keep it fresh"

In my early CMS days I used to hear this type of thing all the time when people were trying to justify the need for a CMS by quantifying how much they edit the site. Even then, I thought the idea that people would be pleased by homepage "freshness" was a quaint little fantasy. In the real world, nobody who matters cares about the fact that a home page has changed. The absurdity of the idea is reflected in this Onion article "Man Cruises By William H. Macy's Website To Check Out The Latest" (hat tip to Deane Barker for mentioning it at the Now What Conference).

There is only one reason to change your home page and that is to make it better. What do I mean by better?

  • More Current

    Obviously, you don't want to have any outdated information on the homepage. If you were promoting an event, you want to replace that promotion when the event has passed. You may even want to replace it when it is too late for an attendee to consider going. If you have a new product that you want to push, that product should get top billing. If you have changed the way you describe your organization, that change needs to be reflected in the language on the home page. Being current is keeping up with with your content marketing strategy.

  • More Compelling

    As I have said before, the only reason why someone visits your home page is because he does not know where to go. More intentional visits will come from deep links from search engines and other sites. Use this indecision to your advantage by driving the visitor to your goals. What content is the most compelling? You will never know until you test and that is where analytics and multivariate testing comes in. By the way, never do simple A/B testing. Always use an "epsilon-greedy" approach that allows the more effective option to automatically bubble to the top.

The simple rule is to never change content unless you have something better to show. But just because the rule is simple, it doesn't mean it is easy to practice. To follow the rule, you need to be producing current content that is in line with what your organization is doing; and you need to be hyper-aware of how your content is performing so you can continually improve it. Capriciously changing for the sake of change may make you feel productive and dynamic, but it isn't doing your organization any good. Never changing your home page is not a good thing either. It is a symptom of a stagnant organization and that is not something that you fix by regularly scheduled homepage changes.

Mar 12, 2013

Never use cost savings to justify spending more on a CMS

Replatforming your website to a new web content management system is an expensive proposition. In fact, a CMS migration can be so expensive and risky, that I advised many of my CMS selection clients against doing it. That is not to say that there are not perfectly legitimate reasons to replace a CMS. The wrong CMS can hold you back and prevent you from seizing valuable opportunities. But one sure fire way to spot a foolish CMS replacement project is when it is justified by a return on investment (ROI) calculation that relies on future labor cost savings to offset the price of an expensive CMS.

The truth is, if you make a big CMS investment, you will probably spend more time managing your content and optimizing the experience for your visitors. Why? Because advanced (expensive) web content management systems allow you to do more sophisticated things like personalization, multivariate testing, and advanced analytics. If your CMS has these features, you better actively manage them because neglecting advanced engagement functionality is worse than not having it in the first place. Buying an expensive CMS to avoid the human effort of managing a website is about as silly as buying an expensive car because you want to spend less time driving.

If you must show an ROI projection to justify the cost of a new web content management system, focus on the top line. Talk about the value (or potential value) of your content. Talk about the opportunity to reach new markets or connect with potential customers in new ways. And make sure to set aside plenty of budget for people to operate and get the most out of that CMS. To learn about all that goes into effective an marketing operations program, see me present at the Now What Conference next month.

If you want to treat your website like a project where you "do the website" and then forget it about it for a few years, I would seriously consider ripping out your CMS entirely and build a nice static brochure website that you can cheaply host. If you just need to make occasional updates, there are lots of cheap and free web content management products available. Many of these products can take you pretty far as you increase the intensity of your digital marketing program. But if you want to go high end, your initiative will fail unless you build a competent marketing operations program that gets the most out of the technology.

Oct 02, 2012

Building a Marketing Operations Program

Ahava Leibtag (@ahaval) from Aha Media Group and I just published a sequel to our first white paper ("Three First Steps to Operationalizing Your Content Marketing"). This one is called Building a Content Marketing Operations Program and takes off where the first one ends — getting into deeper detail about process. I am particularly happy with the content lifecycle diagram that we developed and Seth Gregory designed.

Content Lifecycle

What I like about the diagram is that it is simple. Other content lifecycle diagrams show a lot of detail that tends to overwhelm in non-academic settings. The key points that this diagram highlights are that:

  1. Marketing operations should be an iterative process that uses results to guide continual improvement.

  2. The lifecycle operates within the context of your overall content marketing strategy (who you want to reach and how) and governance (your constraints like style guide, budget, regulation compliance).

  3. Publishing is more than just saving content in your CMS. There is a very important "promotion" element to make content findable, usable and actionable.

The white paper digs into those three themes and discusses the types of roles and skills that are necessary to be successful. Go ahead and download it. If you are intrigued and want to learn more, you can email me directly here or hit me up on any of the social networks that I participate in.

Sep 25, 2012

The Three Qualities of Effective Publishing: Findable, Usable, and Actionable

When the creative process of content generation is complete, there is a tendency to breath a sigh of relief and relax. In reality, however, some of the most important work still lies ahead. To have impact, content needs to be amplified by effective publishing processes just like a musician needs amplifiers and acoustics to fill a stadium with sound. When publishing anything, I ask these three questions. Is it findable? Is it usable? Is it actionable? Let's dissect them one at a time.

  1. Is it Findable?

    If your content is not found, it may as well not even exist. In order to be findable, a piece of content should be unique. It needs to answer a question or solve a problem that hasn't been solved before. Or be an innovative approach to something that people struggle with. Otherwise your content is just going to get lost in the fray. If you have redundant assets on your site, it is time to de-clutter. If are creating content that already exists in other places on the web, divert your energy to doing something original.

    The second part of fundability is that it needs to promoted and linked from where desirable audiences are likely to be. This means promotion on relevant landing pages and navigation, social networks, user groups, etc. It also needs to be worded in terms that people are likely to search for. Findable content is content that appears where people are looking. Metadata like title and description are critical in ensuring that the content stands out on search results and other lists of content.

  2. Is it Usable?

    Now that your consumer has found your content, you want his/her experience to be a positive one. You number one concern is that it displays properly on the device the visitor is using. You shouldn't throw up dialogs that are difficult to dismiss on a tiny display. You shouldn't force someone to download an app just to read an article. If your content is paginated, make sure the paging links work properly. No matter how useful the information, an awkward user experience will leave a lasting impression of frustration and you don't want your brand to be associated with frustration. If you don't have the budget to test all of your content on all browsers and platforms, go for simplicity. This will reduce the likelihood that the presentation will stand in the way of the information.

    Personally, I think content that requires filling out a lead capture form is not usable. I don't want to subject myself to being a sales target before I even know the content is any good. Judging from the information that people enter into lead forms, a lot of other people feel this way too. Marten Rapavy has written an excellent article called Content Marketing: 5 Tips How Not to Kill Your Leads. He advocates optional contact forms and calls to action in the content.

  3. Is it Actionable?

    Hooray! Your content has been found and enjoyed by a visitor. You have made a positive impression but that attention will not last for long. You have milliseconds to convert this positive experience into an action that benefits your business. You hope for at least one of two things. Ideally, you want the customer to engage directly with you and become a sales opportunity. This visitor understands the value that you offer and has qualified himself as a real potential customer. The opportunity is well along the sales pipeline, you just need to close the deal. Make sure you have an easy call to action like a simple form asking to be contacted.

    The other outcome, which is nearly as positive, is that the visitor likes your content so much he/she wants to share it with his/her network. This could lead to brand visibility and many sales opportunities. To make sharing easy, make sure there is a direct URL to a page where friends can access the content. Complex, compound pages (like a portal or an application) can make this complicated. Don't make the Applebees mistake.  A share link builder is useful here. This link better not require a registration form or login. People don't want to send their network into the jaws of a sales pipeline. Protected content does not go viral. Protected content just sits there safely unread.

    To prove that your content drove action, make sure that it is properly instrumented. This means that configuring analytics software and tracking links to see how the content drives behavior such as filling out a contact form or driving other visitors to the site. If your content is not instrumented, you will never know what impact it had and whether it was worth producing and publishing it. You will also never be able to improve your performance.

Most companies undervalue the role of publishing both on external and internal websites. There is this myth that, with the right content management system, publishing is as easy as "saving" content. Yes, adding the content and making it available should be easy and usually are — just like what you saw in the software demo. But that is just the first step in publishing. The rest takes skill, commitment, and time.

Sep 05, 2012

Operationalizing Your Content Marketing

Ahava Leibtag (@ahaval) from Aha Media Group and I recently finished a new white paper called "Three First Steps to Operationalizing Your Content Marketing".

In the white paper we discuss the huge gap between strategy and execution. While marketing organizations often think about strategy, business results are achieved through sustained execution — not short term initiatives like task forces and website redesigns. This goes back to a theme that I have been talking about for years: your website is not a project. Back then I liked to talk about a website as a "product" that needs to be continually maintained and improved. Given that product management is not a common strength in organizations (why can't more people just follow the "make it suck less" philosophy?), I have started to talk about the web and other forms of digital communications as a "program." Still not great, but at least it sounds less cheesy than to say "it's a journey."

No matter what you call it, it takes time and effort to build the trust and attention of an audience. And the only way to do it cost-effectively is to be operationally efficient. You need to be able to prioritize your goals and commit to a plan; then have the team to execute it. This white paper has three parts:

  • Obstacles that stand in the way of organizations establishing effective content marketing programs.

  • Getting started. How to identify audiences and develop a strategy to reach them.

  • How to baseline where you are right now so you can measure the effectiveness of your activities.

You can get it here: Three First Steps For Operationalizing Your Content Marketing Strategy. If you are intrigued and want to learn more, you can email me directly here or hit me up on any of the social networks that I participate in.

Also... stay tuned for a sequel white paper about building a content operations program.

Aug 24, 2012

Socialnomics Video

If you have not already done so, you should definitely watch the promotional video for the book Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business


I haven't read the book yet but the video has some pretty intense statistics. This may not revolutionize your content marketing strategy but it will certainly shake your confidence in the status quo. I hope this doesn't make executives snap to the reactionary decision of "we need to get on Facebook." It would be much better for someone to think "we need to deliver a product/service that people want to rave about." If you can do that, those customers will be gushing about you on whatever social network is currently popular with the customers you want to reach.

Jul 31, 2012

The Scooter vs. The Minivan

David Hobbs has written an excellent post about how managing a website needs to change as your site grows. He draws a comparison with traveling alone vs. with a family: spontaneity vs. stability. To quote:

But, as with websites, this really isn't about one mode of travel being the "right" one is it? If you're just out of university backpacking around Asia, then sure be spontaneous. If you're single traveling on business, then take advantage of features that might not be worth it to the backpacker (like taking a taxi ride straight from the airport to hotel, rather then a series of public transportation that might make sense when backpacking). If you're traveling with a family, then maybe a more planned approach with less stops makes sense. But the point is that there is no single "answer" to the best way to travel, like with websites.

David makes the point that the supporting organization has to adapt to the needs of the website. Some companies transition more proactively and gracefully than others. In the post, David mentions "subsites" as added complexity. I think this is interesting because many organizations look at subsites (marketing landing pages, campaign pages, product sites) as a way to escape the complexity of their main site. It's a little bit like a weekend get-away without the kids. But over time, these subsites become part of the overall web program's complexity.

Jun 27, 2012

Content Marketing Strategy Checklist

I really enjoyed reading Velocity's Big Fat B2B Content Marketing Strategy Checklist. In addition to it's irreverent tone and design, the checklist is great because it forces the reader to think through all that goes into a successful marketing program. Of special interest to marketing operations folks is the "Flog It" section which talks about getting the most leverage out of content: promotion, lead nurturing, atomization (creating sub pieces derived off of the main piece), and measurement.

Most people outside of marketing operations discount the effort that goes in after the content is finalized and ready for publishing. It really is just the beginning. The best results are achieved by nailing the publishing and post-publishing activities.

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