Back to Marketing Basics

By John Eberhard

The essence of marketing, advertising and promotion is and always has been getting people to respond and then buy your product or service. And where the rubber meets the road, and where it has to meet the road, is when someone actually buys something and pays money for it.

One of the most important decisions in marketing has to do with the offer you present, and the desired action you want the person to take. These are kind of two issues but they work together.

With offers, marketing expert Bob Stone says that the offer is one of the most important factors in determining your response rate to a promotional piece. By “offer” we mean, what are you offering to the person? It could be:

  1. Buy the product now
  2. A free consultation
  3. A free estimate
  4. More info on a product or service
  5. Some kind of free information product, like a free report, white paper, etc.
  6. Newsletter subscription
  7. Free software utility or program
  8. Free giveaway item like a t-shirt or pen
  9. Sweepstakes entry

These offers form a scale, from what we call “hard offers” to “soft offers.” The hard offer is more toward having the person reach for a sales interview right now. The soft offer is more geared towards putting a person onto an email or street mailing list where they will receive more sales oriented offers. Often a soft offer is vital with higher ticket (more expensive) items. I have written a white paper on hard and soft offers.

Similar to an offer, we could make a scale of desired actions, or what we want the prospect to do as a result of the promo piece. These could include:

  1. Buy a product directly online
  2. Request a consultation or sales appointment
  3. Call for more information on the product or service
  4. Fill out of a form for more information
  5. Subscribe to a newsletter
  6. Install an app
  7. Like a Facebook page
  8. Follow someone on Twitter or some other social media site
  9. Like or comment on a post on social media sites like Facebook or LinkedIn
  10. Viewing a video
  11. Request a free giveaway item such as a t-shirt or pen
  12. Enter a sweepstakes

So deciding what your offer will be and what desired action you are going for is vital in putting together any marketing campaign. A softer offer will almost always result in a higher percentage of people responding, and the idea is that you are getting people to respond who aren’t necessarily going to buy something right now, but who would be prospects for purchase later.

But the thing is that a soft offer or softer desired action, to be viable, must lead eventually to people expressing interest in the product or service and buying the product or service. So if you go with a softer offer, you have to track how this goes and how well it leads to actual sales.

Years ago I worked as an employee for a home improvement company. Previous to this, I had worked for some other companies where we had used soft offers very successfully. This home improvement company’s offer was basically, “call us or fill out this form to set up an appointment with a rep at your home.”

I thought a soft offer would increase the response level, so I convinced the owner to offer a free DVD which we would mail out to people, showing the company’s products. So we offered the DVD, and responses did increase. But I was embarrassed to discover that very few of those people ended up setting an appointment. And the owner wanted “appointments, right now.” So we of course switched back to offering an appointment.

What I learned coming out of that experience was that 1) a soft offer isn’t necessarily right for every type of business, 2) the bullseye is and needs to be leads and sales, and 3) humility (one of the hardest things to learn if you’re really seeking results).

For home improvement companies especially, a free appointment, or a free consultation, or a free inspection, is most often the best type of offer.

Today, we have many desired actions that marketers are going for, such as video views, engagement on social media, liking a Facebook page, installing an app, or following someone on social media. But two important things to remember amidst all this are:

  1. Are those desired actions leading to actual leads and/or sales?
  2. The answer to that question will vary greatly according to what type of product or industry you are dealing with

It is vital to look at what type of business or industry you are dealing with, and vital to track whether your offers lead to actual sales.

Real Marketing Tips

By John Eberhard

In my last article “The Age of the Marketing Guru,” I talked about how we have seen a dramatic increase over the last 15-20 years of marketing gurus, basically guys telling us that some new thing is going to change everything in marketing.

Some of these new “marketing miracles” have included branding, inbound marketing, permission marketing, content marketing, blogging, and the idea that mass marketing is dead and we can only communicate one on one with prospects on social media. And the gurus have told us that if we didn’t get on board with these new miracles, we were going to be dead in the water with our marketing efforts and our companies.

A book called “Marketers are from Mars, Consumers are from New Jersey,” by Bob Hoffman, brought home the point to me, which I had already suspected, that most of these marketing gurus were wrong and that marketing has not really changed significantly in the 27 years I have been involved in it.

In my last article I listed some things at the end that I called “The Real Stuff,” which I want to expand on here.

The Real Marketing Tips

  1. Mass marketing is not dead. It’s important to promote your product or service regularly on as many mass media channels as possible. But not every medium is equal to every other medium. Try new media cautiously. Observe what your successful competitors are doing. Where are they advertising or promoting? Especially if they are promoting via a particular medium on an ongoing basis, you can bet it is working for them. Some of the factors that will impact what type of media will work for your company are: is it local, regional or national, and is it sold to consumers (B2C or business to consumer) or other businesses (B2B or business to business)?
  2. The essence of marketing is figuring out who will buy your product or service (what demographic, profession, etc.), and then finding out what that specific target public needs and wants from your product or service. This usually requires surveys to find that out. Then you put together promotional campaigns offering what the target public wants. Then you get in leads and then you sell them.
  3. Hoffman points out that ad agencies used to be based around a creative guy who would find innovative, funny and creative ways to sell things. Now they tend to be based around numbers guys, who do everything by statistics. I tend to think he is right and that marketers need to concentrate more on finding clever ways to sell things.
  4. The job of a marketer is to get people to actually reach and express an interest in buying the product or service. Sometimes you work to get people to join a mailing list or some other result, other than expressing interest in buying the product or service. But it’s important to determine if that some other result that you are going for, such as getting people to engage on social media for instance, is actually leading to people expressing interest in buying (and actually buying) the product or service. Hoffman says that social media engagement, for example, has failed miserably in terms of leading to actual sales. Not to say you should necessarily drop social media, but look hard at whether it actually works for your type of business, because it won’t for all types.
  5. Just because some new web site or other medium has come out, and even if lots of people are talking about it, doesn’t necessarily mean that it will work in driving leads and sales. I go by this rule. If I see some new medium that I think has promise, I will try it out on a limited basis. If it actually works in driving leads and sales, I will write about it and promote it to my clients. But many writers about online marketing will talk about the latest bleeding edge stuff, with no concern about whether it will actually drive leads and sales. I tend to ignore these types of authors.
  6. An unfortunate aspect of the marketing guru universe is that often you see a guy who has made a lot of hay himself using some marketing method. And at the tail end of that curve, when he sees that the method is starting to fall off in its workability or effectiveness, he will – create a course on how to do it. I have been suckered into this twice, paying good money for a course, that once I tried it, found it didn’t work anymore.
  7. Although offline promo media have gone downhill from what they once were, they are not dead by any means. Direct mail especially is still alive and well, especially if you sell to a specific type of target public, and lists of that public can be acquired.

Where the rubber meets the road in marketing, is getting in leads and sales. That’s what pays for everything we do. We can be as innovative or bleeding edge as we want, as long as we keep that in mind and try new things out, in order to see if they work. And keep the majority of our budget in things that work.

The Age of the Marketing Guru

By John Eberhard

Perhaps about 15-20 years ago, we entered the age of the marketing guru. Before that, there were a few marketing experts that everyone in the field looked up to, such as David Ogilvy, Al Reis and Jack Trout, and Bob Stone.

But then there was an explosion of so-called marketing gurus, such that I, a marketing specialist in the field for 27 years, could not possibly name them all, or even a dozen.

Many of these gurus have made a lot of hay by telling us that such and such new marketing miracle was “changing everything,” and that if we didn’t pay attention to them and get with the program, we would be left in the dust.

I read an excellent book recently recommended to me by my friend Stan Dubin, called “Marketers are from Mars, Consumers are from New Jersey,” by Bob Hoffman. This book brought home to me, the fact that a) Many of these so-called gurus have been wrong, and b) the basics of marketing have not really changed significantly since I started in the field, despite what all the “sky is falling” gurus have said.

Here are just a few of the “marketing miracle” concepts that have been put forth by gurus:

  1. The introduction of Inbound marketing, meaning where people search for you and find you on search engines, rather than you putting out ad messages that “interrupt” them (called “outbound marketing” or “interruption marketing”), has been so ground breaking that “outbound marketing” is dead.
  2. The whole field of marketing is dead, because people don’t like ads and don’t pay attention to them anymore. Instead, you have to abandon the idea of mass marketing and sending your messages out to thousands or millions of people. Instead, you should communicate to prospects on a one-to-one basis on social media, where you can “facilitate conversions.” Because, you know, consumers are just dying to have conversations with brands.
  3. Content marketing, where you create articles and infographics and videos (usually helpful info and not sales oriented) is all you need to do anymore. People respond better to companies that help them so you just need to create amazing content, no more annoying ads or anything.
  4. Branding is just so important and you have to work really hard to brand yourself, and that applies to any business of any size or type, anywhere.
  5. And the grand-daddy of them all: the concept that you have to get “permission” from a prospect before you can communicate to them at all. This came from author Seth Godin and has probably single-handedly destroyed email marketing, making it seem as though it is somehow immoral to send people promotional emails.

All of these concepts have some truth to them. But the problem is, as Bob Hoffman has pointed out in the above mentioned book, that the gurus who have advanced these ideas have tried to get their “big idea” to encompass all aspects of marketing. And many have used the alarming type of message of “this changes everything and you have to know this or you will be out in the cold” to sell their books, courses, or consulting.

I will now comment on each of the above new “miracle” marketing concepts.

Inbound Marketing: Pay per click advertising through search engines has truly revolutionized the marketing field, because you can now reach someone right at the moment they are actually looking for you. But that doesn’t mean by any means that outbound marketing is dead.

Marketing is Dead: As Hoffman points out in his book, consumers are not really dying to have conversations with their brands. I rejected this idea that mass marketing is dead when it first came out, because the mass communications aspect of marketing is one of the things that appealed to me about the field in the first place. Plus I didn’t see how you could have nearly the same amount of reach and power by trying to communicate to people individually. Hoffman also points out that you still see mass advertising flourishing and prospering, on Facebook, and on nearly every free information type site.

Content Marketing is King: The problem with the idea that all you have to do is create wonderful content, is that there is such an overload and saturation of content on the web right now (which will only get worse in the coming years), that if all you do is create content and put it up, no one will see it or care. If you create great content, you still have to promote that content as Mark Schaefer points out in “The Content Code.”

Plus, one of the ideas behind creating informational content is that you are making your company or your brand known as a trusted information source. But people who push the idea that “all you have to do is create great content,” including Google, miss the idea that this is not the best strategy for every type of business. Just as a simple example, take a plumber. What is he going to write about, and who is going to care?

Oh My God Branding is Everything: Hoffman points out that brands are not nearly as important to consumers as marketers seem to think. He says that most brands could disappear tomorrow and consumers would just go to the next brand and be perfectly happy. And he quotes stats to prove this point.

I started thinking about this and realized that there were only a small handful of brands that are truly important to me. I own a Nissan Altima and I love that car, and I like Nissans a lot better than Toyotas and Mitsubishis, both of which I have owned. Also I am a musician and own a set of Yamaha Recording Series drums, which I think are the best drums in the world. I own all HP computers as I have had the best experience with them.

But I don’t have any emotional attachment to brands of shoes, clothes, grocery stores, toilet paper or toothpaste. I asked my wife and she had a hard time listing any brands that she had a strong emotional attachment to.

So that tells you that branding is important in certain cases but not everything. And I have always felt that you can brand a product or company at the same time you are promoting for people to buy it now. So I don’t ever favor the type of advertising that is JUST aimed at branding.

Permission Marketing: Stan Dubin knows I have had unkind words for Seth Godin in the past. Actually it is not true that Godin single-handedly destroyed email marketing. He had a lot of help from guys promoting Viagra and toner cartridges, who basically over-saturated the medium to the point where people tuned out. But Godin did introduce the idea that it was somehow immoral to send promo email.

The truth of Godin’s message was in the fact that if you want to build an email list of clients and prospects for an email newsletter and similar uses, getting someone to opt in is much better, and they will tend to accept your email much better. But he tried to take that concept to the point of infinity where all marketing had to be done with “permission,” a ridiculous concept that would keep you on a small scale forever.

The Real Stuff

  1. A mix of inbound and outbound marketing is necessary for any company.
  2. Marketing is not dead. Promote your product on as many channels as you can. Interrupt people. It’s OK. You do not need permission.
  3. Find out what your prospects need and want and promote that. This may require surveys.
  4. Content marketing is not necessarily the right way to go for any business.
  5. I would say that none of these miracle concepts fit ever single situation. Every business and every type of business needs to be handled differently, and the right strategy has to be worked out on a case by case basis.
  6. Advertising aimed only at branding is a waste of money. Do you know any businesses that can afford to waste money today? If so send them to me, but I will not waste their money.
  7. Be suspicious of anyone who says that some miracle has “changed everything” in marketing and you have to do XYZ or you will die.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The Correct Amount of Promotion

By John Eberhard

Many times a small business owner will come to me wanting help with marketing. The first thing I will do is look at what promotion they have done so far and what has been effective.

Sometimes this will uncover that they have done limited promotion in the past, or that they have relied on just one or two promotional actions. Sometimes I find that they basically have never done any promotion before. In other words, they have gotten by with referrals, or foot traffic, or one or two big clients.

But now they have decided they want to expand, so they are looking into doing more promotion and marketing.

One of the most important concepts I try to get across to new or old clients is: you need to promote your business on as many different channels and media as you can, as broadly as you can, on an ongoing basis.

In other words, you can’t just do one promotion, like one direct mailing, and then stop. Or, you can’t just do one type of promotion, even on an ongoing basis, and that’s all you do. You have to promote using as many channels as possible, as many as you can afford, and do it continually. In other words, a multimedia approach.

Now this appears to be a hard concept for some small business owners to understand. But the ones who do get this and apply it are more successful.

I will tell a story of my own experience recently which illustrates this idea. I have been doing my Real Web Marketing Inc. business full time for 8 years (anniversary coming up next month). Over that time I have mostly relied on email marketing, sending out a regular email newsletter, sending that newsletter also out to a membership email list, and sending promo emails to various email lists I have bought.

But over the last year or so I noticed that response to email marketing was declining. Then I started thinking about email open rates, realizing that only about 10% of recipients even open an email today. So I realized that even past prospects and even past clients weren’t necessarily hearing from me regularly, as I had thought they were.

So I decided to increase the promotion I was doing, to other media.

  1. I compiled a street address mailing list of clients and prospects, then designed a series of 6×9” postcards, each one promoting one of my main services. Then we began cycling through the list, mailing a certain number of postcards per week.
  2. We began running ads each month on the membership email list where we were posting the email newsletter.
  3. There are companies that sell leads for web design and search engine optimization. So we have been trying out these companies, paying for a certain of leads per month.
  4. We ran paid ads on Facebook.
  5. I set up remarketing on Google AdWords. This is where people who visit your site, will then see your banner ads on various sites that they visit after that for 30-60 days.
  6. I started posting every day on social media linking to articles I had written.
  7. I continued doing the email promotion I had been doing before.

The result? We found our leads coming in increased dramatically. They didn’t all come from the sources we thought they would. And our company income was highest ever in April, and then again highest ever in May.

Once again, the principle is you need to promote your business on as many different channels and media as you can, as broadly as you can, on an ongoing basis.

The trick is to find media and types of promotion that will work for you. And to try out media that you can afford, at a pace that you can afford. Realize that you are going to have to try things out and see how they work. But don’t be too discouraged if you get leads from other sources than where you promoted. It works that way sometimes.

It’s a little tricky. You might think that one promotion isn’t working and isn’t contributing to your higher leads and sales. But then you drop it out and they fall.

But even if you find one type of promotion didn’t work at all, drop it but replace it with something else. Keep the volume high.

Good luck with your promotions.

Content and Sharing, Part 3: Hygiene, Hub and Hero Content

By John Eberhard

A couple months ago I wrote two articles on content sharing, and had intended to write at least one more part to the series. But I became so busy with marketing services for clients over the last two months that I literally had no time to continue the series at that time.

These content and sharing articles are based on what I learned from a book called “The Content Code” by Mark Schaefer. My first two articles covered the fact that Schaefer goes over in the book, that writing great content is not nearly enough in today’s mature content market. You also have to be very active in getting that content distributed and shared.

One of the interesting things Schaefer covered in the book is that there are three different types of content that one might create, including articles or blog posts, infographics, videos and so on.

Hygiene content: This is the content that serves the daily health of your audience. This content makes them aware of your brand and helps them connect to you when they need you most. This is the specific, short-form content that is most likely to turn up in organic search results. An example of hygiene content is a series of how-to videos from a do-it-yourself store like Home Depot.

Hub content: While hygiene content might get somebody to your site, hub content is intended to keep them there. This could be a series of articles about a more in-depth topic, or perhaps a serialized story, that makes people want to go down the rabbit hole and stay on your site. This could also be “evergreen” content that people seem to love and read month after month. An example of hub content is the addictive and thrilling adventure videos produced by Adidas Outdoor featuring daredevil athletes using their gear. Hub content lifts subscriptions to your content, spurs engagement, builds brand interest, and may even lead to brand loyalty.

Hero content: Hero content is something brilliant, dramatic, and bold that transcends the normal day-to-day Internet offerings. This is the content that creates viral buzz. A famous example is the epic videos Nike created to celebrate the World Cup. The most recent one, “Winner Stays,” playfully captures the schoolyard fantasy of young soccer players who morph into their favorite global stars. This type of content is difficult to produce. Nike was intentional in spending millions to create this hero content with the goal of creating massive brand awareness and dominating the conversation around the world’s biggest sporting event. The video received 100 million views.

“It’s important to understand that each type of content plays a role in the overall brand-building plan. One way to carve a place for yourself is to create content in a category your competitors might be missing. In the specific case of my client battling three big competitors, we learned that there was an opening in the hygiene content category that would allow us to capture a niche that leads to search engine traffic.”

An infographic by Brendan Gahan gives more descriptions of what you would do in terms of YouTube videos in these different categories:

Types of Videos

Hygiene Content: What is your audience actively searching for regarding your brand or industry? What can serve as your 365-day-relevant, always-on programming? (Example: product tutorials, how-to content, customer service, etc.)

Hub Content: The content you develop on a regular basis to give a fresh perspective on your target’s passion points. (Example: verticalized content about a product line)

Hero Content: What content do you want to push to a BIG, broad audience? What would be your Super Bowl moment? A brand may have only a few hero moments in a year, such as product launch events or industry tent-poles.”

Gahan also has an excellent article about the hygiene, hub and hero concept.

So what does all that mean? Might seem a little confusing, so I’m going to try to simplify it a bit.

Hygiene Content: This means content that you write or create to help people with the everyday problems or situations that they face, or their general interests, related to your topic or industry or brand. It’s how-to stuff, or advice, that establishes a connection between the target public and you, making them feel that you are helping them. It’s called “hygiene” because it helps them and it’s relatively brief, common, every day sort of stuff. This pulls people into your site.

Hub Content: This is more in-depth content, that, once you get them to your site, is designed to keep them interested and to stay longer, or keep coming back. This is content designed to get people to click “like” on Facebook or subscribe to a YouTube channel. It’s behind the scenes stuff, or training videos, or a series of stories or videos leading up to some big event.

Hero Content: This is content about large scale events, such as product launches or other events, that is designed to build brand awareness, and to entertain and inspire.

There is a wealth of information on this online. I think it is important to be aware of these three types of content. For most small to medium size businesses, it is probably most vital to develop hygiene and hub content, to drive traffic to your site and get them to stay and come back. Then when you have a major event in your company, develop some hero content to gain greater awareness.

Marketing Strategies for Different Businesses: 2016

By John Eberhard

Whenever a new prospect comes to me, the first thing that I try to do is understand their business and then figure out a marketing strategy, or which of the various marketing actions would be best for them. I don’t believe in a “one size fits all” approach and I have never seen this approach work. I think you have to approach each business individually and see how that fits with each of the marketing techniques.

Local, Regional, National

Whether a business is local in nature (i.e. a restaurant, health care practice, home improvement company) or regional or national (servicing people in a large region or in the whole country) makes a big difference in which online marketing techniques will work for you.

So let’s take a look at the various marketing techniques and how to evaluate what is best for your business.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

  • Regular SEO is international in nature. You will be competing with other companies worldwide for keywords.
  • Takes 6-12 months or more to bear fruit. I have gotten the best results for clients that just continue to do SEO and link building on a continual basis.
  • In competitive markets and for competitive keywords it can be time consuming to get to the point of ranking well
  • Once you rank well, maintaining that is easier and less expensive
  • Link building is a vital element of SEO.

Local SEO

This is where you do SEO but concentrate on keywords that contain city or town names in them.

  • Easier to get to the point of ranking well for local oriented keywords

One caution with local SEO, which is that there are guys out there pitching that they can get you to rank on page one of Google for keywords related to your industry that include your city names. The problem is that I have seen in several instances, these guys didn’t say anything to the client about how many people were actually searching for those keywords. And I can tell you that many of these city name keywords get little to no search traffic. The result is maybe you’re on page one of Google for that keyword now, but if no one searches for it, it won’t do you any good. The moral is to ask in all cases what the search traffic is for all the keywords being discussed.

Google My Business

  • Practically a necessity for local oriented businesses
  • There is a whole procedure to get your listing online and push it up to page one of Google results
  • Some industries are very competitive (like dentists) and each city has a hundred or more listings. So getting on page one is not a slam dunk and takes time and work. If your industry doesn’t have a lot of listings up there, you can get to page one relatively quickly, but if there is a lot of competition, figure 4-6 months or more of work.
  • There are other sites one should put up a listing on as well, such as Yahoo Local, Bing Local, Yelp, Insider Pages, Hotfrog and others. This helps push your Google My Business listing up.
  • Getting positive online reviews is important in pushing up your listing.

Social Media Marketing

  • Can target a local area or region with social media marketing
  • Can target specific industries
  • The main challenge is developing a large list of friends, followers or connections
  • Used to be inexpensive, more expensive now to develop large lists of connections
  • Great for companies that have frequent events, products to showcase, pictures of products or services or events, or videos on YoutTube
  • You have to develop an effective strategy of what type of messages to send out 

Pay Per Click Advertising

  • Puts you in more control of how your listing appears, where it appears and how soon
  • Can target any geographical area, from national down to small towns
  • Great for developing a consistent flow of leads
  • More expensive
  • Only viable for high ticket items (say items selling for over $200)

Pay per click advertising has gotten a bit of a bad rap lately and it seems some people have gotten a bad taste in their mouth from it. I think this is due to the fact that more and more businesses have gotten involved in it and thus there is more competition, which has driven the bids up to non-viable levels in some industries. Pay per click is still quite viable in many cases, but it is more important than ever to have a knowledgeable person manage the account, and to track both email and phone call responses.

Video Marketing

  • Important for services or products that are very visual in nature, or where some explanation is needed to sell it
  • Relatively expensive to have done for you, or time consuming if you do it yourself (assuming you do a professional job of it)
  • Great for personalizing your company
  • Programs to get your video to rank well on Google are typically not effective anymore

Email Marketing

  • Great if you can build up a sizable in-house list of prospects and customers
  • Also great if you can find email lists where you actually take possession of the list and can mail to it repeatedly without having to pay a rental fee each time
  • Email newsletters work great
  • No matter what, don’t rely only on email for your marketing. There are too many things stopping your message from getting through these days, including typical open rates of only 8-12%.
  • Do not pay to rent email lists

Blogging

  • Drives traffic if you post 2-4 times per month
  • Can’t really target people locally. You’ll be getting readers from all over.
  • Put links in the sidebar to the stuff you’re selling
  • Make sure to send a notification (called a ping) out to blog search engines after each post. WordPress blogs do this automatically.

Direct Mail

  • Can be very appropriate and effective for a wide variety of businesses
  • Very trackable in terms of results
  • Postcards are relatively inexpensive to print

Good luck with choosing your marketing strategy.

Content and Sharing, Part 2

By John Eberhard

As part of my recent R&D project on search engine optimization, I read an excellent book entitled “The Content Code” by Mark Schaefer.

One of the things I learned from this book was that, as I had long suspected, that it is not enough to simply write good content and put it up on your website. Despite what Google has been telling us for 4+ years, just writing content and putting it up on your site, by itself will do nothing. You will not get tons of links coming to your site from other sites, or get tons of traffic, just by writing great content.

Instead, once you write some new content, your job is just beginning. It is your job at that point to get people to share and link to your content.

Schaefer says “The persistent myth that surrounds much of marketing today is that content is king. And if you can just produce enough of this scintillating, ripped-from-the-headlines, epic and amazing stuff … dripping with keywords, stuffed to the headlines with relevance, decorated with Pinterest-worthy graphics and videos, and podcasts and listicles … you’ll win.”

“Today, the world has become more difficult for digital marketers because your competitors have also figured out they need to be fueling their helpful Internet presence with content. If you were first and dominant in your niche, good news, good news, good news! But if the niche is filling up, you’re probably discovering a business state I characterize as Content Shock.”

Basically the raw amount of content on the Internet has reached a saturation point in many different topics.

“Of course the volume of free content is exploding at a ridiculous rate. There are many forecasts out there, but most center around a 500 percent estimated increase in the amount of information on the web between 2015 and 2020. If you can imagine the vastness of the web today … well, pretty soon we’re going to have five times that! And some think that number is low, projecting as much as a staggering 1,000 percent increase in information density in that timeframe!”

Reis and Trout, in their book “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind” talked about the vast increase in the number of marketing messages bombarding the average person – 35 years ago. In other words, they were saying in 1981 that the average American was exposed to a huge number of marketing messages. And the number of marketing messages has only increased dramatically since then. The point Reis and Trout were making then was that you had to use a positioning for your company or product in order to cut through the noise.

The point Schaefer is making in The Content Code is that the content revolution is entering a mature phase, meaning that there is now a ton of content online already in almost every category. So just creating and putting up scintillating content (with no attention on distribution of that content) may have cut it 10-15 years ago, but it sure isn’t going to work today.

Here are some guidelines on how you can determine if your topic or niche is too saturated with content already.

“Saturation Guidelines

“So what constitutes “saturation?” As these examples show, the higher the information density in a niche, the more difficult it will be to create outstanding content that will shine through on its own without investment in distribution, promotion, and advertising. Here are rough guidelines outlined by Penn, using Google search results as an index for relative saturation levels.

  • “If there are fewer than 10,000 pages of returned search results, full speed ahead! There’s an opportunity for you since there is low content density.
  • “Between 10,000 and 100,000 results, expect some resistance, but it’s surmountable with minimal investment, exceptional content, and implementation of some of the Content Code factors covered in this book.
  • “If there are between 100,000 and 1 million search results, expect significant resistance. Competing through content alone will be difficult. Applying Content Code strategies might be the primary means of rising above this level of saturation.
  • “A result producing more than 1 million pages of content represents a thoroughly saturated niche. Unless the content becomes a product in its own right through significant investment, Content Shock exists in this niche and is likely to bury even exceptional content creation efforts. In this situation, the Content Code strategies would be the only possibility of strategic leverage.

 “Examining the relative saturation in your niche is crucial to understanding how the Content Code formula will or will not work for your market. It’s extremely difficult to unseat somebody in the search engine ranking if they have dominated a niche, even if you’re doing great work. But it’s not hopeless.

Here’s what Schaefer recommends as a content ignition strategy:

“The six elements of the Content Code

“We’ve established that great content is rarely enough to assure success. Great content is simply the table stakes needed to earn a seat at the table. I’m not going to cover tips and tricks about writing for the web or creating epic videos. Those topics have already been effectively covered in many other places. We’re here to plow new ground.

“So here is the starting line for this race: You need great content.

“Let me repeat: You need great content. But then what?

“This is where the Content Code takes over. Content that rises and is discovered through search is a mixture of art, science, and magic that includes these six factors:

  • “Brand development
  • “Audience and Influencers
  • “Distribution, Advertising, Promotion, and SEO
  • “Authority
  • “’Shareability’ embedded into each piece of content
  • “Social proof and social signals

 “Now, if you’re paying close attention— and I’m sure you are— the first letter of each piece of the Content Code spells out BADASS.”

In the next article in this series, I’ll cover more on Schaefer’s content ignition strategy, as well as the types of content that it is important for you to create.

More on Success with Yelp

By John Eberhard

I started a series of articles recently on content and sharing, and I will get back to that with my next article.

But I discovered some important facts about Yelp recently that I think are really important to share.

  1. When you search on Yelp for a category of thing, like a pizza restaurant or dentist or contractor, in a specific city, you will see a number of listings come up for various companies. But how is it decided what order that these companies will be listed? Well first of all you can create a paid Yelp account where for a certain number of searches that people will do per month, your listing will appear at the top. But aside from having a paid account, how does Yelp decide who is first, second, third, etc.?

    Apparently from what I can tell, it is mostly the raw number of reviews that each company has on Yelp, that determines your ranking on Yelp, with the quality of the rankings having some effect too (i.e. how many 5-star reviews, 4-star reviews, etc.)

  2. Sometimes Yelp archives reviews. There will be a link at the bottom of the reviews that says “reviews that are not recommended.” And you could have a bunch of reviews in there, ones that most people would never see unless they specifically looked for them, which most people won’t. And also, some people can have their review archived immediately after writing it.

    So what causes Yelp to archive some reviews and not others?

    Well I looked over all the archived reviews from several client accounts. And it will show the review, the person’s user name on Yelp, the number of reviews they have written, and the number of “friends” they have on Yelp. So I discovered that in almost every case of dozens and dozens of archived reviews, that the writer had zero friends on Yelp. I saw a couple where the person had one or two friends, but that was the only review they had written.

    Now I am not claiming to totally understand Yelp’s criteria here, but I am saying that in almost every case of archived reviews I looked at, the review writer had no friends on Yelp. And what is the significance of having friends on Yelp? I don’t really know. I guess you can see their reviews somewhere or exchange info on Yelp or something. But that’s not too important for what we are talking about.

  3. Yelp claims that they will archive reviews from people who are “not regular Yelp users.” So this appears to actually be “people who have no friends on Yelp.”
  4. I have now verified that if a person writes a review, and it gets archived because that person has no friends on Yelp, and they later add friends on Yelp, the review will actually come out of the archives and appear as one of the regular reviews.
  5. So for the business owner who wants to get lots of positive reviews on Yelp, in order to move up in the rankings for their category, this information is important. First we know that typically the businesses that have more reviews on Yelp appear closer to the top of the listings for any given category. Secondly, we know that we could go to a lot of trouble and get people to write reviews, only to have them immediately archived. So what are the action steps we can take away from this:

a. First of all, you have to proactively ask happy customers or clients to write reviews about their experience with your company, on Yelp. And by the way, you can’t offer them anything of value, like money or a gift card or credit with your company, in exchange for writing a review, as that is against Yelp’s policies.

b. If your competitors are running a campaign to get lots of reviews on Yelp and you are not, you could get left in the dust.

c. When you ask people to write a review, explain to them that they have to have some “friends” on Yelp, otherwise their review will be archived.

d. If your company has a lot of reviews on Yelp that are archived, you can contact the people who wrote 5-star reviews for you, and propose being their friend on Yelp, or have several people from your company propose being their friend on Yelp. You might have to contact them outside of Yelp, explain the situation, and tell them to log into Yelp and approve all their friend requests. They may have a ton and they have just ignored them. I don’t know how many friends they need for their review to come out of the dungeon, but it can come out by their adding friends.

Good luck with your Yelp marketing.

Content and Sharing, Part 1

By John Eberhard

As part of my recent R&D project on search engine optimization, I read an excellent book entitled “The Content Code” by Mark Schaefer.

One of the things I learned from this book was that, as I had long suspected, that it is not enough to simply write good content and put it up on your website. Despite what Google has been telling us for 4+ years, just writing content and putting it up on your site, by itself will do nothing. You will not get tons of links coming to your site from other sites.

Instead, once you write some new content, your job is just beginning. It is your job at that point to get people to share and link to your content. I learned from Schaefer that there are specific reasons people will share content:

“People share content for hundreds of reasons, but there is a uniform process behind it inexorably linked to self-image, caring for others, and even compassion for an author or brand… While most marketers have understandably had their heads down producing content and building their audience, it’s time to look up again and see that we need to build a third competency – an ignition plan.”

“Research firm eMarketer reports that 83 percent of brand marketers view social sharing as the primary benefit of social sharing because 70 percent of consumers say they are more likely to make a purchase based on a friend’s social media updates.”

So we can see that getting people to share your content, on social media, is a vital part of content dissemination today. But what exactly makes people share content?

“Understanding why people choose to share content sheds light on how you can adjust your strategy and carve out a competitive edge by embedding shareability into everything you create. Think about content you recently shared. Why did you do it? Do any of these reasons ring true?”

  • “It made you look cooler, smarter, funnier, or more relevant – providing you with a personal psychological benefit.
  • “The content struck some strong emotional chord. It made you laugh, cry, or otherwise feel something so profound it deserved to be shared with others.
  • “It’s practical or timely. Sharing the content will help and inform your friends.
  • “You found a new idea and can’t wait to be the first to share it.
  • “You feel deeply connected to the author and you want to support them.
  • “It represents an achievement. Maybe you or your company were mentioned in the content and it makes you feel good to show this representation of your status.

“An average Twitter user retweets only one in 318 content links they receive. Facebook reports that just one-half of one percent of those who see a Facebook post share it. These sobering numbers suggest that actively finding and nurturing that miniscule number of the most active users is critical to spreading your information on the web.”

The New York Times sponsored research that determined there are five powerful reasons people overcome apathy and share content:

  • “To be useful. The number one reason people share content is to bring valuable and entertaining content to others. More than 90 percent of study participants said they carefully consider how the information they share will be useful to recipient.
  • “To define ourselves to others. Nearly 70 percent of participants said they share content to give people a better sense of who they are and what they care about. One respondent said ‘I try to share information that reinforce the image I’d like to present – thoughtful, reasoned, kind, interested, and passionate about certain things.’
  • “To grow and nourish relationships. About 80 percent of participants share information online because it lets them stay connected to people they may not otherwise stay in touch with. A little over 70 percent share content to help connect them to new people who share common interests.
  • “Self-fulfillment. About 70 percent of participants share content because it allows them to feel more involved in the world. The act of getting positive feedback on shares makes people feel valued.
  • “To get the word out about causes and brands. More than 80 percent of participants said they share content to rally others around a cause, company, or idea they believe in.”

I felt like this results of this New York Times study was a total revelation. Because I could see myself in that list, and those were totally the reasons I personally decide to share things on social media. No doubt you can look at that list and see some or all of the reasons you decide to share something on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or other social media sites.

So how do we use this? We use this when we are deciding what content we are going to create. We try to create content that people will want to share with others, because it satisfies one of the reasons above. And we may find that the type of content we create will change, as we learn to create content that will be shared. Because likes and comments are great, but sharing is the Holy Grail in social media.

In Part 2, I will discuss the general saturation level of content on the Internet today and how to do best deal with that.

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