Google Search Changes and the Importance of Content

Continuing our recent discussion about ensuring your company’s visibility in Google searches: at the end of April, Google made changes to its search algorithm – and those changes are affecting many websites, but both positively and negatively.

Fortunately, Google provides ongoing tips in its Webmaster Central blog to help companies put forth “the best user experience” – especially useful for those who can’t invest in regular, professional oversight of their websites (Google makes an estimated 500 changes annually to its search algorithm to combat those attempting to ‘trick’ the search engine into giving their sites higher organic rankings, via keyword stuffing, paying for links, and an assortment of other shady practices).

Google: “Focus on Building Useful Sites with Compelling Content”

The algorithm change is further reinforcement for the advice B2B marketing and PR firms like ours have been hammering home with clients for a while now: the gains that can be made by generating and sharing content.

Content on your site should be useful and educational versus commercial.

Content should be fresh and original, and, generated and posted continuously.

Blogs are one of the most expedient ways to keep website content fresh, given that much of the content on most sites is evergreen (for a reason).

Original content enhances your organic rankings – but that’s not the only reason to create it.  The same information you develop for your site surely has multiple other uses – for existing customers, as sales support material, as the basis for a webinar, published article or white paper, or e-mail blast, etc.

To keep your site ranked as high as possible, Google offers these further tips:

  •  Keep track of algorithm changes on the Webmaster Central blog.
  •  Make sure you’re aware of your top keywords and keyword phrases – how people search for your product or service – and how these may change over time.

 

If you’ve never generated a list of potential keywords and run a traffic report, do so.  Now! Google makes this relatively easy to do yourself with its traffic tool.  And make a point to rerun the report at least quarterly, to stay abreast of and leverage those search terms in your online marketing.

Knowledge of keywords can be incorporated back into your standing site content (content optimization being one step of the SEO process) and can be a springboard for new marketing ideas.

While you’re at it, set up a Google Alerts for your key terms, seek and follow the online conversation and get involved in pertinent blogs, forums, etc.

Doing so will set you up for interaction with members of your industry and prospective customers — those people searching for and talking about your area of expertise.

  • Use social media.  Share links to your site content on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, SlideShare, etc.  Get professional help to at least get you started on these platforms (if you’re not there already).  Learn how other B2B companies are using social media.
  • Google advises companies to go beyond the search engine requirements and drive traffic to your site in other ways, such as through ads special promotions and the like.  Many B2B companies have no trouble with this tip – but may not be using “drive site traffic” as a clear objective.

 

With so many tools available at the touch of a button, there’s no reason your company can’t step up its online visibility even in small increments.

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AJ Huisman – The B2B Social Spotlight

AJ Huisman, Marketing Director, Kennedy Van der Laan

The “B2B Social Spotlight” is a periodic interview series that profiles B2B marketers who are putting social to work to elevate commoditized products and services.

Let’s do a little word association, shall we?

Law firm.  Boring.

Law firm.  Staid.

Law firm.  Stuffy.

Law firm.  *Yawn*

Law firm and social media.  Growing.

It’s true. There are plenty of law firms that are integrating social into  their marketing, but as you’ll read below, one professional marketer in particular wants to take things much farther.

Albert Jan (AJ) Huisman is Marketing Director for the Dutch law firm Kennedy Van der Laan in Amsterdam. AJ understands professional service company marketing. He’s been working in that realm for 17 years. Before joining Kennedy Van der Laan last year, he was Marketing Director, Continental Europe for Towers Watson, a huge global professional services company that helps organizations improve performance through effective people, risk and financial management.

AJ is not only an experienced B2B marketer, he’s a noted advocate for content marketing, becoming a recognized speaker on the subject. In fact, he spoke at the first ever Content Marketing World gathering.

Off the job, AJ, his wife, and three kids live in a historic old bakery (1732) in what he calls a “wonderful” small village a half hour North of Amsterdam.

When it comes to marketing Kennedy Van der Laan, what did you intentionally set out to do differently and how did social media/marketing fit in?

When I started last year, I wanted to transform the traditional way marketing was viewed internally into a totally new way of thinking about marketing. Marketing is not a bunch of secretaries ordering pens and brochures. It’s about helping the firm grow by facilitating ways to realize business goals. Content Marketing is my way of helping my firm grow.

Content Marketing is about showing value. People don’t want to know when you started your business or how many subs you have. They just want to get some answers, how to solve their problems and how to make their life easier. To learn about issues that they should care about but don’t know they should. And preferably consume that info in a pleasant way. Maybe even have some real fun in the process.

Law firms, depending on the practice, can be niche focused. How does Kennedy Van der Laan target its social outreach?

Most professional services firms tend to work in a silo approach. Every specific practice area works in its own little silo and has its own way of doing things, like trying to attract the same clients. Here, the marketing department can play a crucial role. Not only in getting the right content together but also maybe, just maybe, helping the firm adopt a more client centric approach.

The marketing department should be in tune with all content that is being produced in the vertical silos. Only then are they able to cut across horizontally and combine all relevant content for a specific client group. In this way a broader and more joined up proposition will be the result.

We take a subject that appeals to a certain client group and gather information from every practice area that might have interesting content for that group. We don’t let our internal organization structure drive our external communication and that works.

How do you work to attract not just clients, but create relationships and build dialogue? 

The traditional approach to marketing is dead. Transmitting useless features is no more. Or at least it should be. The new kid on the block is content marketing. While not entirely new, it’s the logical next step in this fast moving, transparent and critical world we live in. Transform your business and become a publisher!

Content marketing is a great way to engage and build relationships through dialogue. Funny enough most businesses don’t get this. They’re stuck in a mindset where they cling to their own “send” mode. Sure, it’s safe to list those 20 bullet points about why you are great, but who cares!? The only way I know that you’re the real deal is for you to show me. Not tell me, but show me. Show me you’re an expert in the field that I care about. We do that by giving training and seminars but also blogging about our clients’ favorite subjects. Via www.mediareport.nl, for example, we engage with (prospective) clients in the media sector in The Netherlands. Here, lawyers of our firm blog almost daily about media related topics and Tweet about it as well to drive traffic.

What social tools and approaches seem to be working for you?

We will be launching a new website after the summer which revolves around content. It will be the hub for all our other channels, like Linkedin, Twitter and YouTube. It will have a lot of video, an easy way to create and distribute content, especially in an environment where lawyers tend to be busy with clients. We have built a simple but sufficient video studio where we can quickly interview lawyers on the fly and distribute these clips easily. All the channels revert to the site, which is the main repository for the content we produce.

What do you regularly measure to see what is working and what is not?

Via Google Analytics, we measure everything that’s relevant for us about our website. And we also use a tool to connect our CRM system to our newsletters and here we can drill down to what’s read and what’s not. In this way we monitor subjects we could do a more in depth article about or even a training or seminar. We also ask our clients regularly about their business issues. After each seminar for example we ask all the attendees what they would like to see as the subject of our next seminar. What we are actually asking is: “What is on top of your mind, what business issues are keeping you awake at night?” and that fuels our content creation. It’s a bit early to tell if this has impacted our firm’s bottom line but we are constantly fine-tuning our marketing in ways to grow our business.

What hasn’t worked using social media?

We are constantly trying out new things, so we are constantly learning but haven’t made any huge mistakes, a few small ones that’s for sure. I am not sure interactive magazines are the most effective for our communication. Neither do I believe in integrally streaming seminars or any long (YouTube) video’s for that matter.

What’s the one thing people would never know about marketing a law firm?

That law firm marketing should be boring! We firmly believe that we have great content and that we go out of our way in communicating this in an entertaining way. This helps consuming and sharing this content in ways you can’t imagine. For our 20-year anniversary, we made our first corporate movie ever and it was not the traditional “old founding fathers looking back”-type. We asked ourselves a question: “What if our firm was a 20-year old girl?” what would she do, say, wear, etc. We wrote a script along the lines of our core values and had an actress play Kennedy Van der Laan. We showed the 5-minute movie to all our clients, which they loved, at the 20-year event and afterwards we all sent them the link: http://www.c360.nl/kvdl20/ embedded in a 360o photo of all attendees.

What is one thing your social followers don’t know about you?

I don’t think there’s a lot that the on-line community that I’m part of does not know about me ;)

What three blogs would you recommend?

The Content Marketing Institute: everything you ever wanted to know about Content  Marketing but were afraid to ask

Copy Blogger: about content marketing advice and solutions that work

HubSpot: about inbound Internet marketing blog about SEO, blogging, social media,   landing pages, lead generation and analytics

How can people connect with you?

See my Tweets on: www.twitter.com/ajhuisman, see my photo’s on: http://statigr.am/user/ajhuisman or you can send me an email at albert.jan.huisman@kvdl.nl

_________________________________________________________________________

Do you know of other B2B marketers who are effectively integrating social media? I want to talk to them.  Send me a note at bob@rurelevant.com or via Twitter @RAReed.

 

Content Mitigation: How Sharing Service Details Could Keep You Out of A Crisis

So, you’re using content marketing — articles, blogs, e-newsletters, case studies, videos, and social media platforms — to build brand awareness, customer acquisition, lead generation and customer retention. Work all of these as far as you can take them.

Then take it one step farther.

Producing helpful, educational and valuable content isn’t just for attracting customers. It can be an invaluable ally if something between your company and a customer goes awry, even if you’ve done nothing wrong. Because somewhere, somehow, someone will find something with which to take issue.

Supplying varied and detailed information on your company’s product or service in the form of an ongoing blog series or an expansive FAQ that answers an exhaustive series of questions could help mitigate potential problems and even help tamp down a full-blown crisis if enough instructive information is available and accessible.

Leaving these elements out of your content mix could cost you time, money and potentially your firm’s reputation.

Realistically, not everyone is going to read everything related to your product or service, but having it available within a couple of clicks on a keyboard could be enough to make a news organization beg off a story if information countering an issue is within easy reach.

What should you share in content mitigation program?  Everything possible, such as:

    • Guarantees/Warranties – Be explicit and don’t bury the fine print.
    • Cost/Price – If you have a service that doesn’t have set price because each situation is different, explain what the variables are and supply a range of price, from the lowest to the highest.
    • Problems/issues – No service can be all things for all people. Detail the limitations of your product or service.
    • Comparisons with Competitors – Explaining differentiation between all comers in your niche lets prospects self select and lays bare stark differences.
    • Regulatory Compliance – If you work in an industry where adhering to federal regulations differentiates you from more lax competitors, ensure you explain why you do and how you do it.
    • Scope of Work/Payment – Particularly for potentially high-priced services where scope could change based on circumstances, keep the customer apprised of the charges so there won’t be a surprise at the end that could turn into a public issue… and a potential lawsuit.
    • Accolades/Awards/Testimonials – Your customers, third party endorsements and awards for quality weave a powerful story.  Tell it.
    • Approach/Philosophy – Most businesses have a story of why they began the business and/or guiding principles of how they work. Creating narratives like this make you appear more human and accessible.
    • Limitations/Usage Policies – Your business isn’t super human.  Explain what your business and service is and is not capable of doing.
    • Training/Education – Do your employees undergo intensive education about how to execute their jobs for optimum outcome and value?  Spell it out.
    • Personnel qualifications – The job your company does is only as good as the employees that do it.  For highly technical and regulated industries, offer up details of the training and experience of your employees
    • Consumer/Client Ratings – If you receive consistently high ratings from internal surveys and external ranking services, promote those high scores to help validate your value.
    • Accreditation/Endorsement– Positive reviews from third parties, such as associations and non-profit groups can help bolster credibility.

 

All of these suggestions may or may not be applicable to your business, but err on the side of caution in supplying as much about your service as possible. Because anything that could be misunderstood and misinterpreted will be.

SEO Secret: Use Paid Search Ads When Full SEO is Out of Reach

It’s no secret that performing search engine optimization (SEO) for a website is a significant investment when done professionally and thoroughly.

Aside from the cost, the sheer number of tasks involved in SEO — keyword research, content optimization, formulating page titles and meta-tags, starting a blog, tweeting, adding links and more – can seem overwhelming.

Still, every company wants their websites to be visible on the first few pages of relevant searches.

There is, however, a far less costly alternative to SEO: paid search ads.

These can accomplish the goal of creating visibility on page one (an achievement that even full SEO can’t guarantee) at less cost, and in less time – with very positive results. 

Yes, it’s “advertising.”  So, no, it’s not as good as being on page one through organic ranking.  But paid ads DO get attention.

Paid search is a viable option that offers 100% control: you decide your budget (as low or high as you like), you change the content of the ad whenever you like, you pay only for clicks, and you can immediately see the results of your ads.  If they’re not pulling in the kinds of leads that you want, you can stop the campaign at any time.

We have had success with several clients who spent as little as $200 to $300 monthly on the campaigns.

Ads can be designed to support almost any marketing endeavor (such as driving traffic to your website or a special landing page featuring one of your products or services, to building awareness of a special promotion, to reach more people with your content).  If the ads are well thought out and well-written, you will get clicks. 

Make Your Ads “Smart”

Content is king in all sorts of marketing outreach, and it’s no different for paid search ads.

The limitation on Google ads is that you have only about 30 characters and three lines of text to get your message across.  How will you make your ad stand out?  Content.

I call ads that link to useful content for the prospect “Smart” ads. Rather than creating a set (five- seven typical for any program) of plain-vanilla ads that are straightforward, bland or just try to expose your message, instead exploit and tie your ad to educational content – direct them to download something that’s useful.

You could for example:

  • Destroy common myths about your product or service
  • Provide information or tips about selecting your product or service
  • Help them compare between competitive offerings
  • Answer questions or common sales objections
  • Share your company’s perspective about an industry issue or problem

 

Your educational content needn’t be long.  White papers make perfect downloads – but here again, some companies may not have any readily available. The alternative is a single landing page on your website (or a downloadable written document) that contains the educational information you have convey.

It makes sense to be where your customers are searching – online.  If your company is not already highly visible, paid ads are worth at least a test run, serving a supporting or even starring role in your ongoing marketing efforts.

Prove It All Night… Or Not

I can’t help but think of Bruce Springsteen when talking about social media because of his song, “Prove It All Night.” It’s not so much the lyrics (although you could make the case for a loose analogy on winning the ephemeral “love” of a customer), it’s the title.

Companies have so many channels and opportunities created by social media to honestly communicate and actively prove why (and sometimes why not) their product or service stands above other competitors. The active engagement that is necessary is what contrasts how things used to be done with the surface-visible sheen of advertising and printed pieces.

Back in the day (before 2005), businesses spent untold tens of thousands writing, editing and designing some static and barely useful “look-how-great-we-are” tomes that had no more use or relevance than day-old newspapers lining birdcages. How long did writers labor over every word, weaving a narrative on how wonderful said company was, while artists suffered over the layout of trying to put a human face on an organization that didn’t dare, nor really care, show it real face?

Social brought to a close to what I call the age of “collateral damage”, as well as the websites that took their place, employing an array of devices to display a company’s plumage, rather than the feathers that give it flight. Social changed everything.

But not for everybody.

We’re well into Web 2.0 and so many businesses still don’t (and maybe never will) understand how using the Internet and the overabundance of social media tools can help them connect with their audiences.

Maybe they’re not meant to be.

Do a quick search for advice on how to best differentiate products and services and you’ll get widely divergent answers. Some praise the advantage of product benefits and personal relationships. Others think warranties, guarantees, uniqueness, service, and the customer experience are trump cards. And, yes, some people believe that low price alone will win the day.

I believe that most products and services, even in highly competitive and commoditized markets, can be effectively marketed. But a good percentage will never put the effort into finding what makes their offering distinctive and look for the correct combination of marketing and social tools to locate, attract and share their knowledge with the right audience.