In today’s guest post, Search Laboratory’s Content Specialist Thom Milson, shares his thoughts on what brands should be doing when it comes to content creation in order to fuel online visibility, brand awareness and conversions.
A successful online marketing campaign is not one thing; it cannot be defined by one criteria and it varies from brand to brand. It will, however, encompass several common elements: an increase in brand awareness, audience growth, more conversions and search visibility. Despite knowing what a successful campaign should achieve, many fail. So why is this? Well, it’s simple: many brands focus on the wrong strategy to meet their KPIs. In this article we will address the four key aims of an online marketing campaign, and how you can tailor your strategies to meet those KPIs.
Increasing Brand Awareness
For years now, digital marketers have been pursuing links; usually, the more the better. When a campaign earns thousands of links it’s usually met with at least a pat on the back, probably more. In most cases you see an increase in rankings, but do these links actually help raise awareness of a brand? And, if you don’t properly consider the brand in a link earning campaign, can pursuing a large number of links come at a cost?
Back in 2014, a video appeared on YouTube called “First Kiss”. The video depicted 20 strangers kissing each other for the first time and received over 110,000,000 views on YouTube – but do you remember the clothing brand behind the video? Nope, us neither – and it even appears in the video.
Despite the video’s viral success, it wasn’t until WREN – the clothing brand who produced the video – announced it was an advert, that they even received any press coverage for the video. Even then, because they had misled people regarding the origins of the video (many of the people featured were hired actors – not strangers) the coverage was mostly negative.
The “First Kiss” video is an important example of the difference between earning links and building brand awareness: the video earned over 3,000 links for WREN, from sites like TIME Magazine, Elle, MTV and Buzzfeed, yet, despite these links, the video did nothing to boost brand reputation; instead, the negative reaction had the opposite effect. Had they not misled people regarding the origins of the content, it’s very likely that this video would have earned the same high-quality links, but in a way that positively raised the brand’s profile.
Our recent campaign for Viking is a great example of branded viral content. It capitalises on the popularity of Star Wars and the buzz surrounding the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but at no point is the brand behind the project hidden; instead, the idea is so strong and relevant that it makes sense to be coming from the brand. Viking is, at the end of the day, a specialist in stationery, so it makes sense when the murals are made from post-it notes. This is the key to great viral content: making it feel natural. As a result, the campaigned earned a great number of links, from sites such as Mashable, The Metro, CNET and Nerdist. All the while, the Viking brand was at the forefront of the coverage.
As digital marketers, we all want to earn large numbers of high-quality links, but we should not aim to do so at the expense of a brand. Links and brand awareness are not the same thing – but they can be if the idea is closely linked to the brand. Websites like the Guardian, The Metro, Mashable, and Buzzfeed have a lot of influence, but it’s no good if a link comes from a page talking about kittens if the brand is a funeral home.
Building an audience and increasing traffic
Writing an external guest post does not always drive relevant traffic. Similarly, a viral video – or another form of content – may get millions of views or likes, however, there is no guarantee that that these people are relevant or even interested in visiting your website. Instead, when trying to build a larger audience, a brand should focus on two main areas: getting published in the top publications for its industry and providing top quality, shareable onsite content.
Top publications drive relevant traffic because they get your brand in front of the right audience. Work on targeted PR led campaigns, and newsworthy activities to be featured in these. If these publications accept guest authors, consider writing for them, but only if you are willing to produce high-quality content.
As well as targeted PR campaigns and exclusive guest authoring, you should – if building an audience and increasing traffic are your main goals – work on producing useful and necessary content on your own website; using links and external posts to build the authority of this great content.
To see lasting benefits, onsite content – created for the purpose of boosting traffic – should always be evergreen. For example, this could be a guide on how to choose the correct size of bicycle – information first-time bicycle buyers will always need before making a purchase.
If onsite content cannot be evergreen, it should always be updateable and part of a bigger theme of content. For example, this could be a guide, such as “The Best Places to Cycle in France” which would be updated annually and be placed within the umbrella theme: “The Best Places to Cycle in the World”. Updating content in this way keeps it relevant – users are more likely to click on search results from 2015 than 2013 – and the umbrella theme makes it easier for users to find using broad search terms. It also makes it more likely that a user will either subscribe to the series, or, at least, read other related articles.
It’s no good creating this great content if you do not share it. Therefore, you should always promote onsite content using paid social seeding to really see a boost in traffic. Using paid social seeding allows you to put your content in front of a very relevant audience. For example, the aforementioned guide to cycling in France can be placed in front of users who have both an interest in cycling and visiting France. If you have guides for other countries, these can be targeted in the same manner, increasing the number of highly relevant users that visit your site. The more you do this, the larger your audience will become.
Creating conversions and sales
Optimising content for conversions and sales isn’t really about numbers; instead, it’s about thorough research for well written, informative pieces and very focused targeting.
The most recognisable example of content for sales and conversions are service pages that describe what a brand or business offers. For example, this could be a page for divorce services offered by a law firm. Within this page will be a relevant call to action and measurable conversion, such as a phone number to call, or query form. When creating this content, it’s vital to put the purpose of the page before it’s shareability. It has to be useful, persuasive and well designed to optimise the number of visitors that convert. Using various tools like Hotjar to monitor user interactions with the page can help make changes that improve the conversion rate. It also helps you see a user’s journey across the whole site, giving an insight into additional information or actions you want to lead them towards.
When creating content for conversions and sales, it’s important to understand where your content falls within the buying funnel. For instance, a user will normally request holiday brochures early in the buying funnel, booking their holiday further down the line. At each point of this journey, the user is looking for different information. It’s important to understand this because this is how you make your content useful, as well as relevant.
Once you have your useful, relevant pieces of content, you need to get them in front of readers. Using targeting ads on social media will help with this. In the case of holiday brochures, you can target users who mention holidays, during colder months, when the desire to travel is high. Another way to promote them is to incorporate them into your link and brand awareness campaigns: instead of ideas that relate generally to a brand, think of great ideas that tie into service page topics.
Increasing inbound links
Even if you consistently produce great PR-led brand awareness campaigns and have top-notch onsite content, you will still need to earn links. This is because Google still uses links as a factor in its algorithms. Why is this important? Because a good Google rank leads to more users discovering your content and shareable assets, further audience growth, conversions, sales and brand awareness.
When earning links, you should always consider the value of a link. 1,000 links may sound great, but if they’re all poor quality links, they may actually have a detrimental effect on a website’s ranking. Instead, links need to be high quality and specific to the brand’s target audience.
We recommend working closely with the communities that make up your brand’s target market. If this is mothers, work with mummy bloggers and communities like Mumsnet. If this is TV and film buffs, consider working with sites like Nerdist, Comic Book Resources and Mashable. Reddit is a good place to share some kinds of content, but it’s a great place to research all kinds of content. Use Reddit and other sites that your target market use, to gain a thorough understanding of what they read, write and share. Once you know these websites, you know your link targets. Now you have to produce content tailored for them because those are the links that help define the Google rankings for your niche. One link from those is far superior to many from unrelated websites; when you build these relevant links to your onsite content you will help it rank in search engines, making it easier for users to find, further boosting traffic.
If you have an idea for a viral piece of content, designed to earn lots of links from different sources, it should always feed into onsite content to make those links appear more contextually relevant to Google. This onsite content should then contain a natural call to action or conversion opportunity. For example, for our Star Wars project we created onsite content that documented the making of our post-it note murals, with downloadable templates for users to make their own. Not only that, but we could naturally promote the post-it notes available on the Viking website alongside the templates. When news websites covered the story, they simply included a very natural, relevant link to the making-of page. This meant that the project didn’t ever feel overtly salesy – increasing its shareability. As a result, we were able to earn high-authority, stationery relevant links from a wide-range of high authority websites, Increasing Viking’s overall Google rank.
Brand awareness is all about exposure and as a result, mass exposure will always be the number one priority. However, simply picking a trending topic to capitalise upon may not be the best option; in most instances, a branded, integrated and targeted approach will be needed. Be transparent and never hide a brand. If building an audience and increasing traffic are your main goals, focus on producing useful and necessary content on your own website. Then, use links and external posts to build the authority of this great content. Understand what your target audience likes to read – and why they might come to you to read it. When targeting sales and conversions, thoroughly research your target market and the buying cycle for your industry. What do you need to provide future customers with? Be informative, authoritative, and well researched in your content. After you’ve done all of these things, start to build links to your great content, planning campaigns to go viral when possible and natural.
Ultimately, however, all of these different approaches should be integrated together within a larger marketing strategy that transcends online and digital boundaries. Communication between departments is key in achieving this, with design, PR, SEO, marketing, all playing key roles.
For a more detailed discussion on how to achieve your KPIs, don’t miss the roundtable session being hosted by Ian Harris, CEO & Founder, Search Laboratory at the Content Leaders Masterclass #CLManc16 on Tuesday 26th January 2016 at The Castlefield Rooms in Manchester.